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Physical activity aids pupil attention in class

Outdoor classroom breaks involving 15 minutes of physical activity may improve children’s attention, memory and wellbeing, a study suggests.

Researchers found that pupils who did 15 minutes of self-paced running or walking benefitted more than those who spent the same time outside doing intense physical activity or no exercise at all.

Teachers at schools around the UK led pupils in three types of activity, each lasting 15 minutes – running or walking at the pupils’ own pace, intense running and being outside without exercising.

More than 5,000 children with an average age of nine years old took part in the study by the Universities of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Highlands and Islands.

We wanted to determine whether any benefits were due to the intensity of physical activity or from just taking a break outside of class.

Dr Josie BoothMoray House?School of Education and Sport

Online tasks

Immediately before and within 20 minutes of finishing each activity, children completed computer-based tasks to measure wellbeing and cognition, including memory and attention.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that self-paced exercise most improved scores for wellbeing and cognitive tasks.

The self-paced activity was similar to that undertaken in the popular Daily Mile initiative, which launched eight years ago to improve pupils’ health and fitness.

Similar effects

The effects of intense exercise and no exercise were similar, but children’s scores for alertness were lower after breaks involving no physical activity.

Children reported more positive moods after self-paced exercise than intense physical activity or no exercise.

This improvement was found be partly responsible for the improved working memory associated with self-paced activity.

Evidence shows pupils are more alert and pay better attention after self-paced physical activity when compared to just sitting, the researchers.

Dr Cohn MoranUniversity of Stirling

Related links

The Daily Mile

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