Feasibility of breaking up sitting time in mainstream and special schools with a cognitively challenging motor task

Emiliano Mazzoli, Harriet Koorts, Jo Salmon, Caterina Pesce, Tamara May, Wei Peng Teo, Lisa Michele Barnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Children spend ≤70% of the school day sitting in class. Classroom-based active breaks can benefit children's physical health, but if the breaks are cognitively demanding (i.e., combine physical exertion and mental engagement), they may also improve focus and cognitive functions. Teachers and students play a crucial role in the successful implementation of active breaks, and their perspectives are critical to the feasibility of these strategies. The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of implementing a cognitively challenging motor task as an active break in mainstream and special primary schools. Methods: A total of 5 teachers in 2 mainstream schools and 7 teachers in 1 special school (attended by children with neurodevelopmental disorders) attended a 20-min training on how to implement a 4-min cognitively challenging active break, before conducting a feasibility trial (twice a day for 1 week). To understand individual perceptions, one-on-one semistructured interviews were conducted before and after the trial with teachers, and focus group interviews were conducted with typically developing children after the trial. Questions were based on a predefined framework for feasibility studies. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analyzed in NVivo 11 using a framework approach. A total of 12 teachers (11 females; 7 between 20 and 34years old) and 34 children (16 girls; 9.3 ± 1.7years, mean ± SD) participated in the interviews. Results: In mainstream schools, teachers viewed the cognitively challenging motor task as appropriate and potentially beneficial for children's health and focus. Children reported enjoying the active breaks. Teachers in special schools viewed the task as complex and potentially frustrating for children. In both school types, children's disruptive behavior and lack of time were seen as the main potential barriers to implementation. The use of music, videos, visual cards, and support staff were noted as potential facilitators. Conclusion: The cognitively challenging motor task was a feasible way to interrupt children's sitting time and promote physical activity in mainstream schools, but required changes in special schools. Further research could investigate the effectiveness of these types of task interruptions on children's physical and cognitive health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-148
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sport and Health Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Active breaks
  • Classroom
  • Cognition
  • Physical activity
  • Sedentary behavior

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