Using peer mentors to enhance school-day physical activity in elementary aged students has been given an A+ from Nova Scotia researchers.
And the increased physical activity levels got top grades for significantly improving both academic test scores and cardiovascular fitness levels.
Funded principally by the Nova Scotia Research Foundation and supported by community partners including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, research by principal investigator Dr. Camille Hancock Friesen and her team at the Maritime Heart Center (MHC) found that peer mentors can significantly influence the amount of physical activity kids have throughout the school day.
The MHC team created a Heart Healthy Kids (H2K ) Lunch program, which included three games that peer mentors could lead during lunch time once every two weeks. At least one MHC staff or adult volunteer was present at each H2K Lunch to ensure that the peer mentors were adequately supported.
"Using positive influences on children to be physically active works," says Dr. Hancock Friesen. "It may be that social reasons for physical activity trump other influences for kids. Unlike adults, they are not as motivated by concern for weight control or long-term health."
Students selected as peer mentors, who were age mates with other team members (grades 4, 5 and 6), received training in organization, positive feedback and team building.
Once the participants had eaten lunch, they participated in the games, including relays, tag and ball games. The peer mentors recognized participants who were particularly involved or helpful and participated in focus groups to evaluate the program.
"There was an average increase among peer-mentored students of over 1,000 steps a day," says Dr. Hancock Friesen. "It is clear that peer mentoring has a role to play in increasing school day activity levels among students."
The Heart Healthy Kids study tracked more than 800
|Contact: Jane-Diane Fraser|
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada