Tangible steps towards fitness: Finnish school invests in pedometers

Last week over 200 students and employees of the Lönnrot primary school in the eastern Finland city of Lappeenranta took their first steps towards better fitness, as they started using their new school-bought pedometers.

"We've only used the pedometers for a few days, but I can already see minor changes," says Kirsi Valtonen, a special education teacher at the school - writes finland.fi.

She says that now when an eraser falls on the floor, the pupils scramble to retrieve it because they have been told that even the smallest amounts of physical activity can make a difference on the device's step counter.

"Yesterday I saw the older children running alongside the fence in the schoolyard because they wanted to improve their daily totals," says Valtonen.

Finnish Schools on the Move

The pedometers put the school back 18 euros a piece, accounting for a less than 4,000-euro total investment. It is part of a 15,000-euro subsidy the school received from the Finnish Schools on the Move programme, funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which has also made it possible for the school to acquire an indoor climbing wall and a few bicycles for student use.

The Schools on the Move programme is part of a national programme promoting physical activity in Finland, already in its seventh year of operation. Antti Blom from the National Agency of Education has worked as the director of the programme since its inception.

"Poor exercise habits began to become more common in the early 2000s," he says. "Our programme has been able to influence the subset of people who are too sedentary, but overall the changes have been quite minimal. The situation has still not transformed from a worrying one to a satisfactory one."

Blom says 89 percent of Finland's municipalities have become familiar with the Schools on the Move programme goals and implemented them in some way.

10,000 steps already during the school day

The school in Lappeenranta considered the advantages and disadvantages of the pedometer investment before it made its final decision. The hope was that the devices would inspire the school community to move more, and based on the first few days, it seems to have been successful.

"Our first graders have recorded over 10,000 steps during their school day alone, and their school day is quite short," says the school's vice-rector Sari Leskinen.

A potential drawback is that more stationary children might feel bad if their performance does not meet that of their more competitive peers. Fifth graders Elea Hynnynen and Karla Federley admit that this could easily happen.

"But on the other hand, it is so easy to take more steps that everybody should be able to do it," says Hynnynen.

Plan to keep a long-term focus

Teachers and administrators at the school are prepared for the initial excitement to wear off eventually.

"It's the early infatuation phase and the kids are excited about racking up high step counts. We are aware that the thrill will wear off sooner or later," says vice-rector Leskinen.

The teachers have planned theme weeks later in the year with tasks and longer study entities that will call the pupil's attention back to the pedometers.

"Employees of the school, such as the cleaners and the custodians, can also tell the kids about their pedometer counts, so the students can get a sense of how much physical activity the different professions require," says teacher Valtonen. "I would think that this would be useful information for the pupils, in terms of the occupational choices they will make someday as adults."

Read more news of Helsinki on our site.

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