A new U.K. study finds that just 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve mood, attention and memory in primary school students.
The findings reveal that children gave their best test responses after engaging in self-paced physical activity, as opposed to exhaustive exercise or relaxing outdoors.
“This suggests that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class. This may help children be more ready to learn when they return to the classroom,” said Dr. Josie Booth of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education.
The study is part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific campaign — designed to inspire young students to pursue a career in science — and partly funded by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.
More than 11,000 students across the U.K. participated in a scientific investigation to determine how a short exercise break can impact mood and cognitive abilities.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate,” said Dr. Naomi Brooks of the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport.
“Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory, enhancing their ability to learn.”
Children were asked to answer questions about how happy and awake they were feeling before they worked on attention and memory tasks on a computer. Children completed the tasks both before and after they participated in each of three outdoor activities of varying intensities:
- bleep test: This was the most intense activity, where the children ran in time with bleeps, which got gradually quicker, until they felt close to exhaustion;
- run/walk activity: This was of intermediate intensity in which the children ran or walked at a speed of their own choice for 15 minutes;
- control activity: This was the least intense activity where the children went outside to sit or stand for 15 minutes. This was used to compare whether physical activity had a greater impact than simply going outside.
In total, more than 7,300 children provided information on at least one of the key measurements, related to mood and cognition.
Compared to the control, students reported feeling more awake after taking a break and engaging in exercise for a short time. Both the bleep test and the run/walk made students feel more awake than the control activity, although they felt most awake after the run/walk.
The children also said they felt better after doing the run/walk but reported no difference in the way they felt after completing the bleep test, compared to the control activity.
Students responded more quickly to the attention task after completing the run/walk, compared to the control and bleep test activities. They were also better at controlling their responses after doing the run/walk and bleep test than they were after the control activity.
After the run/walk, the student’s ability to remember words in sentences improved, while there was no difference between the bleep test and control activity. However, there appeared to be no real difference to their ability to remember shapes.
“Overall, our study concluded that exercising leads to improvements in children’s mood and cognition,” said Dr. Colin Moran of the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport.
“In most tasks, participating in a run/walk activity was more beneficial than doing the bleep test, where children should be closer to exhaustion. However, in most cases, doing the bleep test was no different from completing the control activity.”
Source: University of Stirling