Physical Activity in Schools, Part 9

under-desk bikes

F as in Fat, the exhaustive report published by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, tells us that children need to keep moving — for all kinds of reasons directly or indirectly connected with childhood obesity (PDF). “Extended periods of inactivity are discouraged,” it says. Extended is defined as more than two hours. Kids need to run around at least every couple of hours, even in school.

Not long ago, news was announced of a study from the University of the West of Scotland. The researchers took 75 teenagers and divided them into three equal groups for the sake of experiment:

One group carried out high intensity activity, exercising three times a week for four minutes, with 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds of rest.

The next group carried out moderate activity, exercising three times a week for 30 minutes.

The last control group just did their usual PE lessons.

The scientists learned that short yet brisk bursts of exercise are very effective for the improvement of health. This improvement was defined and measured in terms of blood pressure, blood profiles, and body fat. Intense brief periods of activity not only save time, but promote health better than other exercise patterns.

In the area of kids and schools, a lot of the discussion centers around bicycles. Some communities have mobilized their energies to make it safe for kids to bike to school, or even walk.

But what about bicycles at school? Not long ago, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published some interesting news that gives a whole new meaning to the term “desk jockey.” Actually, it’s not about horses, it’s about portable pedal machines. Bottom line, it would do office workers a world of good to have small devices under their desks, for periodic use as they work. A total of just 23 pedaling minutes per day can have health benefits, the study authors found.

These “bikes” are so minimalist, they’re really nothing but pedals. Fortunately, that rotary action is all a person needs to reap the benefits and counteract some of the harmful effects of the super-sedentary office lifestyle. In the four-week study, the participants “did maintain the level and intensity of activity.” In other words, they didn’t get bored with pedaling or push the devices aside like just another wornout toy.

ScienceDaily reports:

The volunteers said they found the machine easy to use and an alternative to exercise during bad weather. They overwhelmingly said they would use such a machine regularly at work if offered one by their employer and said that it had not affected either their productivity or the quality of their work.

What if a school had an alternative study hall room, with pedal machines under every desk? What if there were stationary bicycles here and there in the school building, available for spontaneous, refreshing exercise? What if hula hoops were all over the premises, ready for any restless child to take a stimulating spin?

Hula hoops, by the way, are to be taken seriously. The Huffington Post recently collected opinions from several clients of a hooping class, and these enthusiastic words from Sarah Klein are representative of the general mood of approval:

One would think that hula hooping works out the abs, but it surprisingly also works out the thighs — we had to do squats and lunges WHILE hooping! — and the arms, because you have to keep them kind of raised up throughout the whole class so that they don’t get in the way of the hoop. And while it may not seem like it would do that much for cardio, since you’re kind of just standing in the same place for about an hour, it really gets the heart rate up because your body is continuously swaying. I was surprised by how much of a sweat I was working up…

I could be better in terms of physical fitness. And this kind of exercise is the perfect gateway, I think, to doing that. It starts out slow, and just builds, so before you know it, you’re doing more physically intensive moves and really getting your muscles working. It made me feel like I could do it, and that I am capable. And that encouragement is huge for starting, and sticking to, a workout.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” (PDF),, July 2011
Source: “Brief Bursts of Exercise Curbs Obesity,” Times of India, 06/03/11
Source: “Portable Pedal Machines May Help Counter Harmful Effects of Sedentary Jobs,” ScienceDaily, 02/14/11
Source: “We Tried It: Hoopnotica,” The Huffington Post, 06/07/12

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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