Relationship of movement to learning – 3 recent research studies

The connection between the student’s ability to learn and their physical activity has been known for decades. But the implementation of the practice of physical activity during learning has not been consistently practised. The use of games in your team building program can add the physical activity that according to these reports will improve the learning that will occur.

There are many articles in this area but I am confining my references to three of the latest reports. They are all from the U.S.A. and have been published in the last three years. The most recent report was published in May of this year by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active… [They went on to add] In addition, students should engage in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day, such as through recess and classroom time dedicated to physical activity.

Institute of Medicine (2013), Educating the Student Body – taking physical activity and physical education to school,  National Academy of Science, Washington D.C., U.S.A. [accessed 15/10/13]

When learners are asked to stay sedentary for long periods of time they lose focus and and find it hard to concentrate. They may even become bored. But with a short break for some physical activity, they become energised and more attentive.

movement and learning - increase movement increases the ability to learn

The next report is from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and was published in 2010. The authors studied 43 research articles and reports and made summaries of the findings. The most relevant quote in the Executive Summary for us with respect to movement and learning is:

Nine studies (reported in nine articles) explored physical activity that occurred in classrooms apart from physical education classes and recess. In general, these studies explored short physical activity breaks (5–20 minutes) or ways to introduce physical activity into learning activities that were either designed to promote learning through physical activity or provide students with a pure physical activity break. These studies examined how the introduction of brief physical activities in a classroom setting affected cognitive skills (aptitude, attention, memory) and attitudes (mood); academic behaviors (on-task behavior, concentration); and academic achievement (standardized test scores, reading literacy scores, or math fluency scores). Eight of the nine studies found positive associations between classroom-based physical activity and indicators of cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior, and academic achievement; none of the studies found negative associations.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 2010, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, including Physical Education, and Academic Performance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Summary, page 2.

When using games in team building programs, they are generally 5-20 minutes in length. Thus, they should have a similar impact with corresponding learning improvements.

In a 2010 study in the USA involving 2000 principals, they found:

Key findings from the survey include:
• Four out of five principals report that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
• Two-thirds of principals report that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
• Virtually all believe that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

Gallup Poll (2010), Principals say recess has a positive impact on learning; students are more focused, listen better after recess, Robert Wood Johnson Institute, [accessed 15/10/2013]

Recess is slightly longer than games that you might use in a team building program but the concept bears comparison.

Based on the results quotes from these reports, inclusion of movement in your training programs will improve the participants’ ability to learn your program.