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Systematic review of acute physically active learning and classroom movement breaks on children’s physical activity, cognition, academic performance and classroom behaviour: understanding critical design features
  1. Andy J Daly-Smith1,
  2. Stephen Zwolinsky1,
  3. Jim McKenna1,
  4. Phillip D Tomporowski2,
  5. Margaret Anne Defeyter3,
  6. Andrew Manley1
  1. 1 School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK
  2. 2 Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA
  3. 3 Department of Psychology, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Andy J Daly-Smith; a.daly-smith{at}


Objective To examine the impact of acute classroom movement break (CMB) and physically active learning (PAL) interventions on physical activity (PA), cognition, academic performance and classroom behaviour.

Design Systematic review.

Data sources PubMed, EBSCO, Academic Search Complete, Education Resources Information Center, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus, SCOPUS and Web of Science.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Studies investigating school-based acute bouts of CMB or PAL on (PA), cognition, academic performance and classroom behaviour. The Downs and Black checklist assessed risk of bias.

Results Ten PAL and eight CMB studies were identified from 2929 potentially relevant articles. Risk of bias scores ranged from 33% to 64.3%. Variation in study designs drove specific, but differing, outcomes. Three studies assessed PA using objective measures. Interventions replaced sedentary time with either light PA or moderate-to-vigorous PA dependent on design characteristics (mode, duration and intensity). Only one study factored individual PA outcomes into analyses. Classroom behaviour improved after longer moderate-to-vigorous (>10 min), or shorter more intense (5 min), CMB/PAL bouts (9 out of 11 interventions). There was no support for enhanced cognition or academic performance due to limited repeated studies.

Conclusion Low-to-medium quality designs predominate in investigations of the acute impacts of CMB and PAL on PA, cognition, academic performance and classroom behaviour. Variable quality in experimental designs, outcome measures and intervention characteristics impact outcomes making conclusions problematic. CMB and PAL increased PA and enhanced time on task. To improve confidence in study outcomes, future investigations should combine examples of good practice observed in current studies.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42017070981.

  • classroom movement breaks
  • physical activity
  • cognition
  • academic performance

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  • Contributors AD-S is the guarantor. AD-S drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to the selection criteria, the risk of bias assessment strategy and data extraction criteria prior to registration. AD-S developed the search strategy, which was approved by all authors. AD-S and SZ performed the study selection. AD-S extracted study details which were confirmed by SZ. All authors read, provided feedback and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.