Students Staff

10 February 2009

Working with schools for healthy hearts

Colchester Campus

Pupils at Willow Brook Primary School with their outdoor play equipment

Researchers from the University of Essex are working with two Colchester schools to improve fitness and behaviour by increasing participation in outdoor activities.

The aim of the project, funded by Heart Research UK, is to tackle health and behaviour problems through engaging pupils in outdoor play.

Led by researchers at the Centre for Sports and Exercise Science at the University, up to 200 pupils at each school will take part in fun outdoor activities ranging from skipping and Frisbee to orienteering.

Lead researcher Dr Caroline Angus explained: ‘Four out of ten children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, and more than a third of under-10s fail to meet recommended exercise levels. Nowadays children have less access to safe outdoor play and the amount of time children spend playing outdoors has almost halved in the last 20 years. The aim of this study is to find new ways to encourage children to be more active and develop strategies to help schools to increase physical activity.’

The project will provide a total of 12 weeks of activities, with different activities running for a two week period, spanning winter and summer. Before the activities got underway the pupils undertook a range of tests to establish basic health, fitness and activity measures.

The emphasis of the project is on undertaking ‘green exercise’, that is physical activity which takes place outdoors in contact with green space. The two schools have been chosen to compare one in an urban area (Willow Brook Primary School in Colchester) with one in a rural location (Langenhoe Community Primary School). Dr Angus explained: ‘We are trying to encourage interaction with nature which we hope will lead to improved mood and behaviour as well as increased activity.’

Denise Armstrong, Lifestyle Manager for Heart Research UK said: ‘This project provides a real opportunity to support lifestyle changes in children. We hope it will benefit not only the children taking part, but other children nationwide, by providing a model for more innovative approaches to school playtime. Increasing activity levels in children can lead to them becoming more active adults, significantly reducing their risk to devolving heart disease.’

Note to Editors
Reporters/photographers/camera crews are invited to Willow Brook Primary School Barnardiston Road, Colchester, CO4 0DT on Wednesday 11 February between 12.40 and 1.15pm where pupils will be taking part in outdoor activities as part of the healthy hearts project. Please contact Jenny Grinter in the Communications Office at the University on 01206 872400, e-mail: to let us know if you will be attending.


Heart Research UK
Heart Research UK is a pioneering charity that currently funds more than £4.1 million to innovative research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease. In addition, over £500,000 has been awarded to community based projects with a strong heart-health message. To find out more about Heart Research UK’s Healthy Heart Grants visit

For further information please contact the University of Essex communications office on 01206 874377 or e-mail

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