Study Shows Active Children
Focus Better In School

Children who are active during the school day are more likely to be better focused and more on-task than their more sedentary peers, an East Carolina University researcher has found.

In a 12–week study of 62 third and fourth graders at Grifton Elementary School, a team of ECU researchers led by exercise and sport science professor Matt Mahar found children were more attentive and on–task after participating in physical activity.

“We evaluated in this study 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,” Mahar said. “[We found that] the kids not only are more physically active, which helps combat the obesity epidemic, but also probably learn better after the Energizers because their on–task behavior is better.”

The Energizers are a set of 10–minute long movement–oriented exercises developed by Mahar and other ECU researchers to promote both physical activity and learning. The teachers were trained to lead their students in a 10–minute activity every day for 12 weeks. The Energizers, which were developed for both elementary and middle school students through funds from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, are available to anyone and can be found at the DPI's physical education web site: Energizers.

Mahar, whose findings were published in December in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, is concerned with the lack of emphasis on physical activity in public schools and sought, through the Energizers, to integrate movement with age–appropriate educational activities.

“It's important because even if you can demonstrate its benefit in terms of health, people are more likely to do it if it can help academic performance of students,” he said. “I think this study shows teachers that that they can have their kids be physically active in class and not only maintain academic performance, but improve it.”

Mahar found that the group of students who performed the Energizers were significantly more active during the school day, as compared to groups of students who did not. In all, 243 children in grades kindergarten through four participated in the physical activity segment of the study.

The amount of activity that can be accumulated over the course of a school year from inclusion of just one 10–minute Energizers activity per day is substantial, said Mahar.

“We found it is the equivalent to moving about 70 miles per year,” he said. He also noted that the effect of the Energizers on on–task behavior seemed to be especially strong in students who were least on–task before the activity. The low on–task students had an increase in on–task behavior by 20 percent after participation in 10 minutes of physical activity, according to the study.

Through a grant from the Pitt County Memorial Hospital Foundation, Mahar worked with ECU professors Jeannie Golden and Tom Raedeke, researchers Tamlyn Shields, former ECU graduate student Sheila Murphy, and former ECU professor David Rowe are the on–task assessment. He also worked with Rhonda Kenny, Donna Scales and former graduate students Gretchen Collins and Tiana Miller to develop the Energizers.

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