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Breakthrough physical activity program will save lives

Trials of an innovative physical activity program iPLAY have shown it can lift aerobic fitness in primary students by as much as 20 per cent and halve the number of students at risk of heart disease.

Education Minister Rob Stokes tests out the iPLAY program at Marton Public School

Education Minister Rob Stokes joined students at Marton Public School as they enjoyed an iPLAY session.

A new physical education program called iPLAY trialled in a small number of NSW public primary schools is showing such impressive results it will now be expanded across 150 schools.

Education Minister Rob Stokes and Member for Heathcote Lee Evans visited Marton Public School, a school where iPLAY is already used, to reveal researchers had found strong evidence the PE program was improving aerobic fitness and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease.

"All the evidence points to iPLAY being a genuine breakthrough for the health of many of our young people," Mr Stokes said.

The iPlay program aims to get students to do 150 minutes of high quality physical activity per week. Activity includes 2-3 classroom "energiser breaks", physically active homework once a week, after-school physical activity at least once a week and physical activity during recess and lunch.

The NSW Department of Education has funded the development of iPLAY with support from researchers at the University of Newcastle and the Australian Catholic University.

An initial trial involving 460 students in eight NSW public schools whose teachers undertook the iPLAY training found the students involved increased their aerobic fitness by more than 20 per cent over the 12-month period.

In iPLAY schools, fewer than 8 per cent of children had aerobic fitness levels that were poor enough to place them in the at-risk category for cardiovascular disease following the trial. This compared with schools in the study that did not receive iPLAY training where 16 per cent of children were below this threshold.

Mr Stokes said the iPLAY initiative had the potential to deliver long-term benefits in health outcomes as physical inactivity was one of the risk factors for chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"At a time when we are witnessing a marked decline in physical activity amongst children, these early trial results are incredible," Mr Stokes said.

"The program also has the potential to improve student academic performance as research shows physical activity can enhance student concentration - in short iPLAY gives students fitness and focus," Mr Stokes said.

Mr Evans said he was pleased to see students at Marton Public School in his community being among the first students to benefit from the program.

"Evidence suggests that positive engagement with physical activity in the first years of schooling can put students on a lifelong active pathway," he said

The iPLAY strategy is to get teachers equipped to improve the quality of their PE lessons through an online course, workshops and a mentoring program.

The successful iPLAY results in the early trial are now being tested in a larger study with 20,000 NSW students in 87 schools, and expanding to 150 schools.

University of Newcastle Professor David Lubans, an iPLAY researcher, said primary school teachers’ university training focused largely on literacy and numeracy teaching with little time spent on physical education.

"iPLAY gives teachers the confidence to ensure they are running effective PE and sport lessons," Professor Lubans said.

Co-developer of iPLAY, Australian Catholic University Professor Chris Lonsdale said the successful iPLAY results in the early trial were being replicated in the larger study of school students.

Recent studies have shown this generation’s children are around 20 per cent less fit than their parents at the same age. Only one in five Australian children meets the recommended national daily physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every day.

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