Benefits of Physical Activity Breaks
By: Alex X. Martinez
Regular participation in physical activity is essential for children’s health. In fact, participation in high levels of physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type II diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Schools feature the best settings to implement physical activity through physical education, recess, and opportunities in both the classroom and out-of-school time. Physical Activity Guidelines developed by public health authorities recommend that schools provide physical activity opportunities to help children achieve 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day. However, current data suggests that children are not engaging in enough MVPA to meet this guideline recommendation. This problem is experienced in a larger proportion by children with disability, as they often face additional barriers that obstruct physical activity participation as compared to children without disability.
Research has shown that physical activity improves brain function by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. Teachers should consider incorporating moderate physical activity (MPA) breaks throughout the day to improve concentration, energize students after a lunch break, and/or help students relax before a test. Short classroom activity breaks are an emerging intervention to increase participation in regular physical activity. Activity breaks are short (10 minutes or less), classroom-based activities that integrate physical activity with academic concepts. An activity that involves moving arms, hands, and heads, in addition to legs, also includes children and youth with disability. These classroom breaks are often called “brain boosters,” “brain breaks,” “classroom activity breaks,” or “classroom energizers,” and involve physical activity as well as learning and social interaction activities.
Here are some inclusive tips to help you incorporate brain boosters into your classroom:
- Involve students with disability and an adapted physical education teacher when selecting activities.
- Incorporate activity breaks into a routine.
- Be strategic about when to incorporate activity breaks. Use activity breaks before an exam, after a lunch break, or to break up a tedious topic.
- Looks for cues, such as anxiety patterns or lack of focus, from the students.
- Be familiar with students’ abilities. If you are not sure about their abilities, do not be afraid to ask.
- Activities might be done from a seated position. Allow the use of mobility devices and ensure there is plenty room to move around.
- Use pair, groups, or “follow the leader” activities.
- Use rhythmic or musical activities.
- Be patient and provide enough time to complete the task.
- Ensure the environment is safe and free of clutter. Reorganize the room if necessary, but make sure that children with visual impairments are aware of the changes made.
- Use verbal and visual cues.
- Use demonstrations or modeling of movements before and during the activity.
- Select activities that are simple and do not require a lot of instruction.