A citizen science study of short physical activity breaks at school: Improvements in cognition and wellbeing with self-paced activity

Josie Booth, Ross Chesham, Naomi Brooks, Trish Gorely, Colin Moran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background
School based physical activity and running programmes, such as The Daily MileTM, are increasing in popularity globally. The aim of this research was to examine the acute impact of such classroom physical activity breaks on cognition and affective wellbeing.

Methods
5463 school pupils from 332 schools took part in a citizen science project with a repeated measures design. They completed tasks of cognition (inhibition, verbal and visuo-spatial 27 working memory) and the Children’s Feeling scale and Felt arousal scale before and after three different outdoor activities: a classroom break of 15 minutes of self-paced activity; a near maximal exhaustion activity (the bleep test); and a no-exercise control group where pupils sat or stood outside. Wellbeing and fitness were examined as mediators of the relationship between outdoor activity and cognition.

Results
15 minutes of self-paced outdoor activity was beneficial for pupils’ cognition and wellbeing in comparison to both other activities (Cohen’s d effect sizes ranging from 0.04 to 0.22; small). The relationship with cognition was not mediated by participants’ fitness level and was only partially mediated by wellbeing. Change scores for alertness were higher after the bleep test compared to the control activity but similar for all other outcomes.

Conclusions
Taking a break from the classroom to complete 15 minutes of self-paced physical activity should be considered a worthwhile activity by class teachers, school management and policy makers. Additionally, more intense physical activity should not be considered to be detrimental.

Original languageEnglish
Article number62
JournalBMC Medicine
Volume18
Early online date17 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Mar 2020

Keywords

  • acute physical activity
  • cognition
  • children

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