Two-Minute Activity Breaks Help Students Get Moving During The School Day

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


Rebecca Hasson sums up the problem in one sentence, "This generation of kids is expected to live two to five years less than their parents, and this problem is directly related to diet and physical inactivity.” As an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan, she knows that if teachers, parents and administrators ignore the growing obesity and fitness issues of children, they are headed for health problems as they get older. For her latest research project, Dr. Hasson is experimenting with a redesigned classroom and a daily schedule that includes plenty of “activity breaks” to keep kids moving throughout the day.

Known as the Active Classroom, the project teams up several groups at Michigan, including the School of Public Health Momentum Center, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and School of Education. They are trying to rethink the typical collection of classrooms, hallways, playgrounds and equipment to truly integrate movement throughout the day rather than isolate it to 30 minutes of recess or gym class.

With the CDC’s goal of 60 minutes of aerobic activity per day for children, Dr. Hasson hopes to at least take care of two thirds of that during the school day. By sneaking in 20 two-minute activity breaks in between academic subjects, kids can burn 100-300 extra calories while letting them get rid of their squirms, wiggles and energy. 

Of course, the kids love the chance to stand-up, do jumping jacks, stretch, and just move around without being told to stop for two entire minutes. Teachers fear the same thing that parents fear when kids visit their fun grandparents; “you riled them all up and then give them back to me!” But Dr. Hasson has tested kids recovery time after activity, showing that they can re-focus more quickly thanks to burning off some of the nervous energy.

Listen to Dr. Hasson describe the concept in this overview video.

At the start of an activity break, the kids check their resting heart rate then check it again at the end of two minutes. They also call our their rate of perceived exertion (RPE) on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being completely exhausted. Dr. Hasson found that the reported RPEs were frequently below actual exertion, showing that kids were having so much fun that it didn’t seem like “exercise” to them.

School hallways are also being looked at as opportunities to move. Curved walls, routes that take the kids outside for a few seconds, and fun activities along the way can also build in those two-minute sessions between classes.

With time being cut for other physical activity during a school day, building in these mini-breaks can hopefully help kids to break even by getting 40-45 minutes of movement in bite-size chunks. With enough support from parents and teachers, Dr. Hasson is confident this change can happen.

"The kids will be an easy sell," she said.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Nov 30 2015

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