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Physically active classrooms

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise
Decision Makers: Educators Local Government State Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Physically active classrooms incorporate physical activity breaks, classroom energizers, or moving activities into academic lessons. Physically active classroom efforts can be implemented within an existing curriculum.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased physical activity
Improved on-task behavior
Increased academic achievement
Improved cognitive skills

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that physically active classrooms increase physical activity levels for students and moderately improve their on-task behavior and academic achievement (Kibbe 2011, Bartholomew 2011, Barr-Anderson 2011, Donnelly 2011, Norris 2015).

Classroom activity breaks modestly but consistently increase students’ physical activity levels (Barr-Anderson 2011, Norris 2015), on average, by 19 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per school day (Bassett 2013). Students participating in classroom-based physical activities that incorporate academic concepts have significantly greater improvements in on-task behavior than students in other classrooms (Mahar 2011). In some studies, students in physically active classrooms show greater improvements in their standardized test performance than their peers (Donnelly 2011, Kibbe 2011). Classroom-based physical activity interventions are also associated with improvements in cognitive skills and attitudes (e.g., attention, concentration, memory, or mood) (CDC-School PA 2010). 

Physically active classrooms are generally considered to be a low or no-cost approach to increasing students’ physical activity (CDC-Youth PA 2009, AHA-Physically active schools). Classroom teachers can be trained to effectively lead physically active classrooms in a relatively short time (Mahar 2011).


United States

In the 2010-11 school year, 25% of public elementary schools across the country offered physical activity breaks for students (BTG-Activity breaks). 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 country (Take 10!) and Instant Recess which has been adopted in both schools and workplaces (Instant Recess).

Many states offer resources to help their schools adopt physically active classrooms. Examples include California (CA DPH-PA resources), Wisconsin (WI DPI-Active schools), Connecticut (Healthy ConneCTions-Smith 2012), Vermont (VT DOE-PA resources), and North Carolina (ESMM NC-Energizers). 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 program (Georgia SHAPE, HealthMPowers-Power up). 


The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction suggests active classrooms as a strategy to become an active school, where schools build two 10-minute physical activity breaks led by the classroom teacher into the daily schedule (WI DPI-Active schools).

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. Accessed on November 23, 2015
AFHG-Physical activities - Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AFHG). Physical activities: Activities during the school day and out of school time activities. Accessed on April 29, 2018
NDC-Play 60 - National Dairy Council (NDC), National Football League (NFL). Fuel up to play 60: 2015-2016 Playbook. Accessed on March 7, 2016
PP-Bossenmeyer - Bossenmeyer M. 10 Rainy and snow day activities for indoor recess. Lake Elsinore: Peaceful Playgrounds. Accessed on May 20, 2016

Citations - Evidence

AHA-Physically active schools - American Heart Association (AHA). Creating a physically active school year-round. Dallas: American Heart Association (AHA); 2009. Accessed on November 23, 2015
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. Accessed on November 30, 2015
Bartholomew 2011* - Bartholomew JB, Jowers EM. Physically active academic lessons in elementary children. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S51-4. Accessed on November 24, 2015
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):108-13. Accessed on February 22, 2018
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: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2010. Accessed on March 1, 2017
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. Accessed on December 1, 2015
Donnelly 2011* - Donnelly JE, Lambourne K. Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S36-42. Accessed on December 16, 2015
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. Accessed on February 4, 2016
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. Accessed on March 3, 2016
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. Accessed on March 7, 2016

Citations - Implementation

BTG-Activity breaks - Turner L, Chaloupka FJ. Activity Breaks: A promising strategy for keeping children physically active at school – A BTG research brief. Chicago: Bridging the Gap Program (BTG), Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago; 2012. Accessed on December 1, 2015
CA DPH-PA resources - California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Free physical activity resources. Accessed on December 7, 2015
ESMM NC-Energizers - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC). Energizers for elementary school. Accessed on February 2, 2016
Georgia SHAPE - Georgia Student Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) Initiative. Power up for 30 success in Georgia. Accessed on December 4, 2015
HealthMPowers-Power up - HealthMPowers. Power up for 30. Accessed on December 4, 2015
Healthy ConneCTions-Smith 2012 - Smith JL. Physically Active Classrooms Institute. Making the ConneCTion: Physical activity and academic achievement. Hartford: Healthy ConneCTions; 2012. Accessed on February 4, 2016
Instant Recess - Instant Recess. Sparking a movement to energize America: 10 minutes at a time. Accessed on February 17, 2016
Take 10! - Take 10! Getting kids active 10 minutes at a time. Accessed on May 20, 2016
VT DOE-PA resources - Vermont Department of Education (DOE). Physical activity resources for classroom teachers. Accessed on November 10, 2015
WI DPI-Active schools - Evers T. Active schools toolkit. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI); 2011. Accessed on November 18, 2015

Page Last Updated

December 7, 2015

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