4 minutes of physical activity can improve classroom behavior for primary school students

We’ve been mentioning similar research for some time now – check here, here and here -, but research shows again the benefit of physical exercise on learning. But this study shows that it even doesn’t need to take very long. A brief, high-intensity interval exercise, or a ‘FUNterval,’ for Grade 2 and Grade 4 students reduced off-task behaviors like fidgeting or inattentiveness in the classroom.

From the press release:

While 20 minutes of daily physical activity (DPA) is required in Ontario primary schools, there is a need for innovative and accessible ways for teachers to meet this requirement,” says Dr. Gurd, lead researcher and professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “Given the time crunch associated with the current school curriculum we thought that very brief physical activity breaks might be an interesting way to approach DPA. We were particularly interested in what effects a brief exercise bout might have in the classroom setting.”

For the study, students were taught a class and were then given an active break, where they would perform a FUNterval, or a non-active break where they would learn about different aspects of healthy living on alternating days for three weeks. After each break, classroom observers recorded instances of off-task behaviour. When a four minute FUNterval was completed during a break from class, there was less off-task behaviour observed in the 50 minutes following the break than if students completed a non-active break.

Working with Dr. Gurd, master’s student Jasmine Ma created the series of four-minute activities that students could complete in small spaces with no equipment.

FUNtervals involved actively acting out tasks like “making s’mores” where students would lunge to “collect firewood,” “start the fire” by crouching and exploding into a star jump and squatting and jumping to “roast the marshmallows” to make the S’more. Each activity moves through a 20-second storyline of quick, enthusiastic movements followed by 10 seconds of rest for eight intervals.

Abstract of the study:

This study examined the effects of an acute bout of brief, high-intensity interval exercise on off-task classroom behaviour in primary school students. A grade 4 class (n = 24) and a grade 2 class (n = 20) were exposed to either a no-activity break or an active break that consisted of “FUNtervals”, a high-intensity interval protocol, on alternating days for 3 weeks. No-activity days consisted of a 10-min inactive break while FUNterval days consisted of a 4-min FUNterval completed within a 10-min break from regular class activities. Off-task behaviour was observed for 50 min after each no-activity/FUNterval break, with the amount of time students spent off-task (motor, passive, and verbal behaviour) being recorded. When comparing no-activity breaks with FUNtervals the grade 4 class demonstrated reductions in both passive (no activity = 29% ± 13% vs. FUNterval = 25% ± 13%, p < 0.05, effect size (ES) = 0.31) and motor (no activity = 31% ± 16% vs. FUNterval = 24% ± 13%, p < 0.01, ES = 0.48) off-task behaviour following FUNtervals. Similarly, in the grade 2 class, passive (no activity = 23% ± 14% vs. FUNterval = 14% ± 10%, p < 0.01, ES = 0.74), verbal (no activity = 8% ± 8% vs. FUNterval = 5% ± 5%, p < 0.05, ES = 0.45), and motor (no activity = 29% ± 17% vs. FUNterval = 14% ± 10%, p < 0.01, ES = 1.076) off-task behaviours were reduced following FUNtervals. In both classrooms the effects of physical activity were greatest in those students demonstrating the highest rates of off-task behaviour on no-activity days. These data demonstrate that very brief high-intensity bouts of exercise can improve off-task behaviour in grade 2 and 4 students, particularly in students with high rates of such behaviour.

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