Poster Presentation ANZOS Annual Scientific Meeting 2021

Physical activity and learning study examining the effects of active classroom breaks on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and classroom behaviour, wellbeing, cognitive and maths performance in a primary school in Northern NSW. (#232)

Avigdor Zask 1 , Martina Pattinson 1 , Daniel Ashton 1
  1. Northern NSW Local Health District, Lismore, NSW, Australia

Issue Addressed

Approximately one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, (1) which is associated with a number of adverse health outcomes. (2) Children spend a considerable amount of time sitting, and many do not meet the Australian 24-hour movement guidelines. (3) Active breaks at school may increase MVPA without adversely affecting wellbeing, behaviour, cognitive and learning effects.


In this quasi-experimental study, children in six intervention classes participated in 3x10 minute energisers per day for six weeks during class time, while five control classes were run as usual. Physical activity levels were measured using wrist-worn Actigraph accelerometers and analysed using random forest models. (4) Off-task behaviour was examined using a Functional Behavioural Analysis tool, (5) and wellbeing was measured using the Stirling Children’s Well-being Scale. (6) Maths performance was measured using the Westwood One Minute Test of Basic Number Facts, (7) and cognitive performance was measured using the Trail Making Test. (8) Teachers completed a brief survey.


Children in the intervention group engaged in 15 and 9.5 minutes more MVPA per day mid and post intervention respectively (p<0.001). The proportion of children that met the Australian Movement Guidelines changed from 44.4% to 60.8% and 55.1% (pre, mid and end of study respectively) for the intervention group, while the control group dropped slightly from 46.5% to 45.9% to 45.8%. Significant fewer students displayed off-task behaviour in the intervention classes mid and post intervention (-1.4, p=0.003). No significant positive or negative intervention effects were found for wellbeing, cognitive and maths performance. Teachers’ feedback was positive.


Active classroom breaks are an effective way to increase physical activity among primary school children while improving classroom behaviour. Their implementation should be considered by policy makers, educators and health professionals. Further longer term studies are warranted to identify health and learning outcomes.

  1. 1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Australia’s Children. Canberra (Australia): Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020. Cat. No. CWS 69. Available from Australia's children (Full publication;18Mar2020Edition)(AIHW)
  2. 2. World Health Organisation: Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. Geneva, WHO, 2016. Available from 9789241510066_eng.pdf (
  3. 3. Active Healthy Kids Australia. Muscular fitness: It’s time for a jump start. The 2018 Active Healthy Kids Australia report card on physical activity for children and young people. Adelaide, South Australia: Active Healthy Kids Australia, 2018. Available from
  4. 4. Pavey TG, Gilson ND, Gomersall SR, Clark, BC, Trost SG. Field evaluation of a random forest activity classifier for wrist-worn accelerometer data. J Sci Med Sport 2016, 75-80. DOI:
  5. 5. Gresham, FM, Watson, TS, Skinner CH. Functional behavioural assessment: principles, procedures, and future directions. Sch Psychol Review 2001, 30(2):1560172.
  6. 6. Liddle, I & Carter GFA Emotional and psychological well-being in children: the development and validations of the Stirling Children’s Well-being Scale. Edu Psychol Practice 2015, 31(2), pp 174-185. DOI: 10.1080/02667363.2015.1008409
  7. 7. Westwood, P. Numeracy and Learning Difficulties: Approaches to teaching and assessment. 2nd ed. Acer Press: Camberwell, Victoria Australia 2016.
  8. 8. Reitan, R. Trail making test results for normal and brain-damaged children. Perceptual and Motor Skills. University of Washington, 1971.