Physically active classrooms

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated
Community in Action

Physically active classrooms incorporate classroom energizers or moving activities into academic lessons. Physical activity breaks and active transitions may be part of classroom-based physical activity programming which complements physical education and recess1. Physically active classroom efforts can be implemented within an existing curriculum.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved on-task behavior

  • Increased academic achievement

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved cognitive skills

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is strong evidence that physically active classrooms increase physical activity levels for students2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and moderately improve their on-task behavior and academic achievement5, 6, 8.

Classroom activity breaks modestly but consistently increase students’ physical activity levels2, 3, 9, on average, by 19 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per school day10. Teacher-implemented classroom-based physical activity interventions have been shown to increase physical activity among elementary school students; the interventions appear to equally benefit both genders and may prevent decreases in physical activity among older students11. Multi-component programs, such as a Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP), which includes physically active classrooms and active recess, may increase physical activity over the long term; a study of low income elementary schools suggests a CSPAP improves students’ cardio-respiratory endurance and gross motor skills over two years12.

Students participating in classroom-based physical activities that incorporate academic concepts have significantly greater improvements in on-task behavior than students in other classrooms13. In some studies, students in physically active classrooms show greater improvements in their standardized test performance than their peers4, 6. Classroom-based physical activity interventions are also associated with improvements in cognitive skills and attitudes (e.g., attention, concentration, memory, or mood)14.

Physically active classrooms are generally considered to be a low or no-cost approach to increasing students’ physical activity15, 16. Active lessons are used less often in majority-Latino schools, compared to majority-white schools; active breaks are used less often in economically disadvantaged schools, compared to those of higher socio-economic status1. Classroom teachers can be trained to effectively lead physically active classrooms in a relatively short time13. Experts recommend that classroom physical activity be provided multiple times throughout the day, in brief periods of five minutes or more, to K-12 students; activities should not replace recess or physical education17.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Forty-three percent of elementary schools report students participating in regular physical activity breaks during the school day, outside of physical education and recess, as of 2014; 11% of school districts require such breaks for elementary schools as of 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Healthy Policies and Practices Study17. Several programs encourage short physical activity classroom breaks. Examples include Take 10! which has been implemented in more than 55,000 elementary classrooms around the country18 and Instant Recess which has been adopted in both schools and workplaces19. National nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids offers grants to schools and free resources for implementing classroom physical activity breaks20.

Many states offer resources to help their schools adopt physically active classrooms. Examples include California21, Wisconsin22, Connecticut23, Vermont24, and North Carolina25. Georgia’s Georgia SHAPE is an example of a comprehensive, state-wide initiative to reduce childhood obesity. This initiative encourages elementary schools to use active recess interventions and physically active classrooms to incorporate at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily via its Power Up for 30 program26, 27.

Implementation Resources

ABC for fitness-Katz 2008 - Katz D. ABC for fitness teacher manual. Derby: ABC for Fitness (Activity Bursts in the Classroom), Yale Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine; 2008.

NDC-Play 60 - National Dairy Council (NDC), National Football League (NFL). Fuel up to play 60: Playbook.

PP-Bossenmeyer - Bossenmeyer M. 10 Rainy and snow day activities for indoor recess. Lake Elsinore: Peaceful Playgrounds.

AFHG-OST - Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AFHG). Out-of-School Time.

CDC-Guide 2018 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Integrate classroom physical activity in Schools: A guide for putting strategies into practice. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2018.

CDC-CSPAP framework 2019 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Comprehensive school physical activity programs (CSPAP): A framework for schools. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2019.


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1 Turner 2017a - Turner L, Chaloupka FJ. Reach and implementation of physical activity breaks and active lessons in elementary school classrooms. Health Education and Behavior. 2017;44(3):370-375.

2 Barr-Anderson 2011 - Barr-Anderson DJ, AuYoung M, Whitt-Glover MC, Glenn BA, Yancey AK. Integration of short bouts of physical activity into organizational routine: A systematic review of the literature. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2011;40(1):76-93.

3 Norris 2015 - Norris E, Shelton N, Dunsmuir S, et al. Physically active lessons as physical activity and educational interventions: A systematic review of methods and results. Preventive Medicine. 2015;72:116–125.

4 Kibbe 2011 - Kibbe DL, Hackett J, Hurley M, McFarland A, et al. Ten years of TAKE 10!®: Integrating physical activity with academic concepts in elementary school classrooms. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S43-50.

5 Bartholomew 2011 - Bartholomew JB, Jowers EM. Physically active academic lessons in elementary children. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S51-4.

6 Donnelly 2011 - Donnelly JE, Lambourne K. Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S36-42.

7 Martin 2017 - Martin R, Murtagh E. Active classrooms: A cluster randomized controlled trial evaluating the effects of a movement integration intervention on the physical activity levels of primary school children. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2017;14(4):290-300.

8 Bedard 2019 - Bedard C, St John L, Bremer E, Graham JD, Cairney J. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of physically active classrooms on educational and enjoyment outcomes in school age children. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(6):1-19.

9 Bailey 2015 - Bailey CG, DiPerna JC. Effects of classroom-based energizers on primary grade students’ physical activity levels. Physical Educator. 2015;72(3):480-495.

10 Bassett 2013 - Bassett DR, Fitzhugh EC, Heath GW, et al. Estimated energy expenditures for school-based policies and active living. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;44(2):108-113.

11 Calvert 2018 - Calvert HG, Mahar MT, Flay B, Turner L. Classroom-based physical activity: Minimizing disparities in school-day physical activity among elementary school students. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2018;15(3):161-168.

12 Brusseau 2018 - Brusseau TA, Hannon JC, Fu Y, et al. Trends in physical activity, health-related fitness, and gross motor skills in children during a two-year comprehensive school physical activity program. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2018;21(8):828-832.

13 Mahar 2011 - Mahar MT. Impact of short bouts of physical activity on attention-to-task in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S60-4.

14 CDC-School PA 2010 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2010.

15 CDC-Youth PA 2009 - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). Youth physical activity: The role of schools. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2009.

16 AHA-Physically active schools - American Heart Association (AHA). Creating a physically active school year-round. Dallas: American Heart Association (AHA); 2009.

17 CDC-Classroom strategies 2018 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies for classroom physical activity in schools. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2018.

18 Take 10! - Take 10! Getting kids active 10 minutes at a time.

19 Instant Recess - Instant Recess. Sparking a movement to energize America: 10 minutes at a time.

20 AHK-Classroom - Action for Healthy Kids. Classroom physical activity breaks.

21 CDPH-PA resources - California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Nutrition Education Obesity Prevention Branch (NEOPB): Public Resources.

22 WI DPI-Active schools - Evers T. Active schools toolkit. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WI DPI); 2011.

23 CT-PE resources - State of Connecticut. Physical education: Related resources.

24 VT AOE-PA resources - Vermont Agency of Education (VT AOE). Physical activity.

25 ESMM NC-Energizers - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC). Energizers for elementary school.

26 Georgia SHAPE - Georgia Student Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) Initiative. Power up for 30 success in Georgia.

27 HealthMPowers-Power up - HealthMPowers. Power up for 30.