Get sporty to spice up your life

Keeping fit and healthy can boost your performance in the classroom, writes Phil Revell

Staff at the Golden Hillock Sports College in Birmingham had an unusual professional development day last October. "We went to a health and fitness centre," says Thelma Probert, the headteacher. "It was a super day - and we're going to do it every year from now on."

Teaching may not appear to be a physically demanding job, but 12,000 individual interactions per day with pupils can leave staff exhausted and prone to health problems - including throat infections, back strains and, inevitably, stress.

The Birmingham teachers had a choice of three activities: swimming and work-outs in the centre's sports area, classes in Tai Chi, yoga or aerobics, or relaxation therapy.

"It sends a message to the staff that we consider their health to be important," says Ms Probert. And every member of staff was invited - not just the teachers.

"We're an inner-city school," she adds. "Sparkbrook has some of the worst health statistics in the country. How can we persuade the children to adopt healthy lifestyles unless we make the effort ourselves?"

There's universal agreement among occupational health professionals that fit and healthy people find work less stressful. The magic mix includes a proper diet, an exercise regime and regular Ramp;R - that's rest and relaxation to the uninitiated.

A sensible diet begins with breakfast, which is missed by too many of us. Think about it - your body has been fasting overnight, so you need to refuel to boost your metabolism. This will keep you going until lunch.

If you starve your body, it is bound to get its own back sooner or later. Without breakfast, you will find it hard to concentrate, and at around 11am, you're likely to start craving sweets, biscuits and chocolate.

School dinners are no help here. Children may need a hefty dose of sugars and carbohydrates to see them through the day, but you don't. A heavy lunchtime meal requires a long digestive period - and that simply isn't on offer in most schools. Better a packed lunch followed by a brisk walk in the fresh air. Twenty minutes is enough.

Consider your journey to work. Could you walk to school? Or cycle? Kesgrave High School in Suffolk has about 30 staff who cycle to school every day, while Solihull's John King, primary teacher of the year, jogs to school every day. And he always has done, having been a cross-country runner in his younger days.

Simon Birch, who teaches at the David Lewis School in Alderly Edge, Cheshire, says he unwinds by playing a regular game of lunchtime table tennis.

"If I don't manage to do that, I get very stroppy," he says. "I probably manage to play three out of the five days."

Simon also plays rugby at the weekends for Congleton. "It's very important to me," he says. "You can get rid of a whole week's angst all in one go."

In Birmingham, Thelma Probert says staff have suffered much less illness and stress this winter. "It showed us that exercise was not just for the competitive," she says. "The whole idea was that we should spend some time looking after ourselves."

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you