It’s recommended that primary school children (aged five – 12 years) should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) each day to see health benefits. Many children, however, get far less, instead spending increased time sedentary in front of a screen.
Around one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, which highlights the need for more effective interventions encouraging improved nutrition and increased levels of physical activity. Schools have been identified as ideal settings to promote healthy behaviours, since kids spending the majority of their week in the classroom.
Researchers in Northern Ireland looked at the effect of classroom-based physical activity breaks throughout the day on children’s MVPA levels and body mass index (BMI).
Over 100 children from seven primary schools participated. Classes were assigned to either the control group, who continued their normal routine, or an intervention group for a 12 week period. The intervention group participated in five minute activity breaks three times per day in the classroom.
Teachers led the breaks, which involved exercises like gentle jogging, hopping, jumping and scissor kicks. Teachers selected which exercises to include each day and were encouraged to vary these from break-to-break. Height, weight, skinfold measurement and physical activity levels (via accelerometer) were measured at the beginning of the study and after 12 weeks.
The results showed a benefit for children in the intervention group, with increased MVPA levels of around 9.5 minutes per day, compared to those in the control group. No difference in BMI was observed between groups.
While there were no changes in BMI observed in this study, classroom-based physical activity breaks throughout the day increased daily MVPA levels and could therefore contribute to an overall increase in children’s daily activity levels.
This intervention has the potential for widespread application, being inexpensive, requiring no special equipment or expertise on the part of the teacher.