The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a world-renowned organisation, offering an international education to just under 1 million students in 151 countries. The IB diploma makes up the final two years of the IB curriculum, and is characterized by its diversity of skills, rigour and the application of content to our rapidly changing globe.

The IB diploma requires students to take 6 courses from a wide variety of  subject areas, complete 120 hours of creativity, action and service (CAS), write an extended essay (EE) research paper and create an oral/written presentation on the theory of knowledge (TOK). The IB diploma is highly valued and applauded because of the complex and demanding nature of its program. However, often times, the increased level of work and commitment required from high school (HS) IB students results in a decrease in their health and wellness.

The time demands on many students during the last two years of HS, in particular those in the IB program, are enormous. Preparing for final assessments and exams require students to have developed highly efficient time management skills. Many students have not built this capacity and consequently ‘steal’ time from other parts of their lives; for example time spent sleeping or being socially or physically active.

The last two years of schooling also coincides with the time in which many schools do not provide students with Physical Education. The UNESCO world-wide survey of Physical Education reported there was “a fall off noted in PE in the senior years of HS” and many schools feel they are unable to fit PE into an already hectic school schedule.

The pressure on school schedules plus the decreasing amount of time students have to be active, rest and sleep are merging to create a perfect storm that negatively affects the health of our HS senior students. A Stanford study notes that “sleep deprivation is at almost epidemic levels” amongst HS students, citing that over 85% of students are not getting the recommended 8.5 hours sleep per night. Combine this with the drop off in physical activity time, particularly after the age of 14, and increased stress levels and we can start to see the bigger picture of how HS seniors health and wellness become affected by the circumstances in which they find themselves.


What can we do to help our HS seniors relieve stress, get better sleep, rest their brains and improve their overall wellness?

If we were to offer or mandate physical activity or movement time for HS seniors, say for 40 minutes three times per week, it would have numerous benefits to their health, wellness and their brains. These benefits, backed by the latest neuroscience, include;

  • Better sleep. People who exercise sleep better for longer and have a lower perception of sleepiness throughout the day. We also know quality and time spent sleeping has an effect on a person’s cognitive function.
  • Lower stress. Active people have, on average, lower levels of stress after they move than before. Chronic stress, such as that experienced during the two-year IB diploma program by some students, impacts cognitive function as well as potentially inducing long-term health problems.
  • Better performance at school. Neuroscientists have been able to prove a positive link between physical activity and cognitive function.
  • Improved moods. Being physically active has been shown to improve your overall mood and outlook. Happier students are more productive students.
  • A healthier class of 2017. What is the point of achieving your goals at HS and getting into the college of your choice if you are not healthy enough to enjoy the experience?

The benefits of being active and moving are not new concepts. We now have the science to help us understand how movement improves our physical, mental and social wellness, and importantly for our HS seniors, the efficiency of our cognitive functions. The question remains, why are we not using this knowledge to benefit the students in our care?

For more information;

UNESCO quality physical education project

Mayo Clinic: stress and exercise

National Sleep Foundation: sleep and exercise

3 thoughts on “IB diploma students need to be physically active, and they need it now!

    1. That is a good point. I think the IB would argue that they require students to do the CAS hours. But the require 50 hours of physical activity over 2 years, especially when being active is so important for those kids, doesn’t seem anywhere near enough.


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