Examining the effect of exercise break intensity on attention and learning in a university setting


As a university lecture progresses, students' attention typically declines. This can interfere with their learning and memory for the presented material to negatively impact their overall academic performance. Prior research has shown that interleaving high-intensity exercise breaks during a university lecture improved student attention and comprehension compared to a computer break or no break. Although promising, high-intensity exercises may not be suitable for a university classroom. To improve feasibility for implementation, the current study aimed to determine whether reducing the intensity of the exercise breaks would still yield similar benefits. 100 students watched a 50-minute online lecture with no breaks (control; n = 25) or while intermittently taking exercise breaks of high (n = 26), medium (n = 26) or low intensity (n = 23). The groups did not significantly differ on their ability to pay attention (Time 1: X2(2) = 3.61, p = .31; Time 2: X2(2) = 3.20, p = .36) or comprehend (F(1,93) = . 26, p = .6) the lecture material. However, when controlling for significant group differences in academic performance outside of the study (F(3, 113) = 3.52, p = .02) and baseline comprehension performance during the study, small positive improvements were observed on comprehension following an exercise break of all intensities (effect sizes: all ds 0.08), but with the largest effect size seen for high intensity exercise breaks. These positive trends point to the benefit exercise breaks on learning in a university setting and establish the foundation for further research.