FLASH Study

Fun Learning Activities in ScHool (FLASH) Study

Background

Regular participation in physical activity is associated with many physical (fitness) and mental (cognitive and psychological) health outcomes across the life span. Research has shown the acute (immediate) and long-term positive effects of classroom-based physical activity breaks on cognitive function and academic achievement. These studies have varied the dose of physical activity ranging from 5, 10, to 20 min breaks. However, recent research has shown that certain types of cognitively engaging physical activity breaks may be more beneficial than more traditional forms of physical activity. Cognitively engaging physical activity requires a high degree of mental effort when compared to more traditional forms of aerobic activity such as jogging or cycling. Examples of cognitively engaging physical activity include playing games (e.g., basketball) with extra rules and learning subject material (e.g., math) while engaging in physical activity in classroom settings.

 

Purpose         

The FLASH study was a 6-week classroom-based physical activity break intervention conducted among 420 (grade 2-8) students in three HWCDSB schools from March 2017 to May 2017.

This study investigated the short-term (acute) and long-term (intervention) effects of different types of physical activity breaks during math class on cognitive functioning, math performance, psychosocial well-being and physical fitness.

 We manipulated the dose (amount) of physical activity during each break:

    • 20 minute physical activity break in the middle of math class
    • 2 x 10 minute breaks equally split up throughout math class
    • 4 x 5 minute breaks equally split up throughout math class

 We also manipulated the type of physical activity.

    • Traditional physical activity: Performed at their desks (jumping jacks, squats)
    • Cognitively engaging physical activity: Teacher would show a grade appropriate math problem (e.g., 5 x 5) using a flash card and ask the children to perform mental math and write down the answer. Then, the teacher would show a physical activity flash card and ask the children to perform that many repetitions (5x5 = 25)

We designed the cognitively engaging physical activity break so that teachers would not lose any teaching time while the children could still reap the benefits of physical activity

 

What did we find?

Although data analysis is on-going, preliminary results are very encouraging:

Acute Study Immediate Effects

  • Improvements were found on all of the psychological variables (confidence, mood, and motivation), cognitive tests and on a 1-minute math test immediately following the physical activity breaks. This was found for both the traditional and cognitively engaging physical activity breaks.
  • Dose doesn’t seem to matter – But you need to include a physical activity break to reap the benefits seen above
  • Type of physical activity matters for math performance – Children who solved math problems during the activity break showed the greatest improvements on the 1-minute math test

Intervention Study Long-term Effects

  • Equal improvements were seen in physical fitness, cognitive functioning, and academic performance following both traditional and cognitively engaging physical activity breaks
  • Dose doesn’t seem to matter – But, again, you need to include a physical activity break to reap the benefits seen above over time
  • Type of physical activity doesn’t seem to matter – Children who solved the most math problems reported that math felt easier following the intervention

Conclusion

  • Classroom-based physical activity breaks increase fitness, cognitive functioning, and math performance regardless of dose
  • Cognitively engaging physical activity leads to the greatest short-term improvements in math performance, without losing teaching time
  • Classroom-based physical activity breaks (e.g., Daily Physical Activity) can be broken up into shorter bouts (2 x 10 minute or 4 x 5 minute) throughout one class period

Next steps

  • We will dig deeper into the data to better understand the impact of the physical activity breaks on brain functioning (brain blood flow) and psychosocial well-being.