Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children

Prev Med. 2011 Jun;52 Suppl 1:S60-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.026. Epub 2011 Jan 31.


Objective: The study's objective was to describe the measurement of on-task behavior and review the research on the effects of short physical activity breaks on attention-to-task in elementary school students, with a particular focus on a promising approach to improving on-task behavior with short bouts of physical activity in the classroom setting.

Methods: Procedures to directly observe attention-to-task were detailed. Published studies that measured attention-to-task in elementary school students following physical activity breaks were reviewed.

Results: Direct measurement of attention-to-task is intensive and demanding on observers. Previous research on attention-to-task following physical activity breaks is sparse. The limited evidence suggests a small to moderate improvement on attention-to-task following physical activity breaks (Effect Sizes typically ranged from 0.13 to 0.60). Teachers can be trained in a relatively short time to effectively lead classroom-based physical activities. Students who participated in classroom-based physical activities that incorporate academic concepts demonstrated significantly better improvements (+8.3%) in attention-to-task than control group participants (-3.1%).

Conclusions: Attention-to-task is a variable that directly relates to concerns of classroom teachers. The limited available research has demonstrated moderate to good evidence that physical activity during the school day improves attention-to-task in elementary school students. Because of the positive effects of physical activity on attention-to-task, it is recommended that elementary school teachers consider implementing physical activity sessions throughout the school day in the form of recess and classroom-based physical activities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Curriculum
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities / psychology
  • Motor Activity*
  • Physical Education and Training / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Schools
  • Students
  • Teaching / methods