Open gym time

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Open gym time is offered during the school day to schoolchildren, typically during the lunch period when the gym or multipurpose room is not in use. Shared use agreements can expand open gym opportunities to include community members after school hours and on weekends.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Open gym time is a suggested strategy to increase physical activity levels for children and adolescents1. Open gym time has been associated with increased physical activity2, 3. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Open gym time can be implemented as part of a comprehensive school-based physical activity program designed to incorporate additional physical activity opportunities in the school day, or as a standalone effort4. One short-term study of an afterschool program suggests unstructured gym time may increase physical activity more than structured gym time, particularly for boys and students with lower BMIs5.

Implementation Examples

Open gym time during the school lunch period has been implemented in many schools, as in Wake County, NC6 and several cities and towns in Wisconsin7. In Kearney, Nebraska, the Kearney Public Schools implemented open gym time as part of comprehensive changes to increase student physical activity levels throughout the school day8.

Implementation Resources

AFHG-Physical activities - Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AFHG). Physical activity.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).


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1 CDC MMWR-School health guidelines 2011 - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). School health guidelines to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2011:60(RR-05):1-71.

2 Mora 2012 - Mora R. Moving bodies: Open gyms and physical activity in Santiago. Journal of Urban Design. 2012;17(4):485-97.

3 CG-Hoonah Alaska 2012 - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Rural community works together to stay “fun and fit.” The tribal communities in rural Hoonah, Alaska used The Community Guide as a resource to help counter the increasing rates of obesity. 2012.

4 Heidorn 2010 - Heidorn BD, Hall TJ, Carson RL. Theory into practice: Comprehensive school-based physical activity program. Strategies. 2010;24(2):33-5.

5 McDougall 2016 - McDougall MA, Schaeffer R, Holm R, Specker B. Increased activity in unstructured versus structured gym time in an after-school program. South Dakota Medicine. 2016;69(12):541-549.

6 WCPSS-Smart lunch - Wake County Public School System. Smart lunch.

7 WI DPI-Wagner 2012 - Wagner K. Wisconsin Success Stories: Active Schools. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WI DPI); 2012.

8 RWJF-Kearney NE - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Signs of progress: Kearney, Nebraska.