Effects of a Classroom-Based Program on Physical Activity and On-Task Behavior

Matthew T. Mahar; Sheila K. Murphy; David A. Rowe; Jeannie Golden; A. Tamlyn Shields; Thomas D. Raedeke


Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(12):2086-2094. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Purpose: This study evaluated the effects of a classroom-based physical activity program on children's in-school physical activity levels and on-task behavior during academic instruction.
Methods: Physical activity of 243 students was assessed during school hours. Intervention-group students (N = 135) received a classroom-based program (i.e., Energizers). The control group (N = 108) did not receive Energizers. On-task behavior during academic instruction time was observed for 62 third-grade (N = 37) and fourth-grade students (N = 25) before and after Energizers activities. An independent groups t-test compared in-school physical activity levels between intervention and control classes. A multiple-baseline across-classrooms design was used to evaluate the effectiveness of the Energizers on on-task behavior. Additionally, a two-way (time [pre- vs postobservation] × period [baseline vs intervention]) repeated-measures analysis of variance compared on-task behavior between observation periods. Magnitudes of mean differences were evaluated with Cohen's delta (ES).
Results: Students in the intervention group took significantly (P < 0.05) more in-school steps (5587 ± 1633) than control-group students (4805 ± 1543), and the size of this difference was moderate (ES = 0.49). The intervention was effective in improving on-task behavior; after the Energizers were systematically implemented, on-task behavior systematically improved. The improvement in on-task behavior of 8% between the pre-Energizers and post-Energizers observations was statistically significant (P < 0.017), and the difference was moderate (ES = 0.60). Likewise, the least on-task students improved on-task behavior by 20% after Energizers activities. This improvement was statistically significant (P < 0.001) and meaningful (ES = 2.20).
Conclusion: A classroom-based physical activity program was effective for increasing daily in-school physical activity and improving on-task behavior during academic instruction.

Lack of adequate physical activity contributes to the obesity epidemic in the United States.[7] Low levels of physical activity have been attributed to limited opportunities for children to be active (e.g., unsafe neighborhoods, shortage of play spaces, increased television viewing after school, and increased demands of formal schooling).[20] Because children and adolescents spend much of their time at school, the school environment presents an excellent opportunity for youth to be physically active.

Because of budgetary constraints and growing pressure on administrators and teachers to increase academic achievement scores, opportunities for physical activity are being reduced or eliminated. Although recess may result in better concentration and less fidgeting in the classroom,[19] no federal law requires states to have recess in schools.

Research examining the impact of school physical activity programs on physical activity levels and on classroom behavior is needed to justify the incorporation of physical activity in school settings, especially to teachers and administrators. We found only one published study that examined the effects of a classroom-based physical activity program on physical activity intensity during the activity. Results provided evidence that classroom teachers can lead elementary school-aged students in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity in the classroom. Total physical activity during the school day and classroom behavior after the activity were not assessed.[26]

The importance of physical activity for overall physical fitness and health is well known, but the positive impacts of physical activity on increasing concentration, mental cognition, and academic performance[2,8,13,22,23,24] and on reducing fidgeting, other self-stimulatory behaviors, and school-related stress[10,11,13,21] are not as well understood. Children often are more attentive, behave better, and perform as well or better scholastically after participation in physical activity through recess or physical education.[1,13,21,22,23,24] Elementary school children who undergo prolonged periods of academic instruction often become more fidgety or restless and experience reduced concentration.[19] Thus, long periods of instructional time without a break might be counterproductive to academic performance.

To promote policy changes that require more physical activity in school, empirical data are needed to document the positive effects of school-based physical activity programs. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a classroom-based physical activity program on elementary school-aged children's physical activity levels during the school day and on on-task behavior during academic instruction time.


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