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Feature Story

January 2018


Study: Physical Activity Boosts Learning Time

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By Deborah L. Vence

It's common knowledge that exercise has a variety of health benefits, including boosting thinking and learning. In fact, results of a three-year study show that classroom physical activity can increase learning time for school children. The study appeared in the November 2017 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) monthly flagship journal.

According to the report, elementary school children have a lot of energy and are known to spend time off task by talking or moving when teachers are giving instructions and lessons, which in turn, could diminish learning. However, the study explored the influence of classroom physical activity delivered with academic lessons on time-on-task (TOT) to determine if the relationship between classroom physical activity and TOT differs by age, sex, race/ethnicity, weight or baseline fitness, and to identify the influence of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) on TOT when controlling for demographic variables.

Physical Activity Across the Curriculum, or PAAC, is a program that allows teachers to incorporate active lessons in the classroom, without diminishing time spent on academic instruction. In this study, teachers at nine elementary schools used active lessons from PAAC across a three-year period of time, and results were compared against teachers at eight other elementary schools that used traditional sedentary lessons.

For example, teachers in the intervention schools were asked to deliver two 10-minute physical activity lessons per day, five days a week. Physical activity was observed in both intervention and control schools to determine the amount and intensity of physical activity. Time-on-task was observed before and immediately after physical activity.

Anthropometrics (the study of the human body and its movement) and fitness were assessed at baseline and the end of the school year for three years. In addition, multilevel modeling was used to estimate overall group difference, change over the study, and group difference in change while accounting for covariates, according to the report.

The children who received Physical Activity Across the Curriculum lessons increased their time-on-task compared to children who received sedentary lessons. What's more, as the amount of time spent on active lessons increased, the amount of time-on-task also increased. Therefore, active lessons do not diminish academic instruction time and increase students' time-on-task for learning, according to the report.

Children who had physical activity lessons participated in significantly more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than those who did not, and that physical activity was significantly associated with more time-on-task.


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