The findings suggest children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class.”

School children did better on their tests after participating in physical activity that was set at their own pace, according to the findings of a study conducted by the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh.

The study was jointly led by Dr Colin Moran and Dr Naomi Brooks, of the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr Josie Booth of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education.

It was part of the BBC Learning’s Terrific Scientific Campaign to inspire school children to pursue a career in science, and funded in part by the University of Edinburgh and the Physiological Society.

More than 11,000 school children across the UK – including 1,536 from Scotland – carried out the research to determine the impact on their mood and cognitive abilities if they took a short break from learning in class and participated in a physical activity.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that short breaks involving physical activity can boost concentration and happiness in pupils. While this is positive, the evidence is not conclusive and this is what we asked the children to help investigate,” said Brooks.

“Ultimately, we found that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory – enhancing their ability to learn.”

A total of 11,613 children participated in the study, answering questions about how happy and awake they were feeling before completing attention and memory tasks on a computer. Children completed the tasks both before and after they participated in each of three outdoor activities of varying intensities. More than 7,300 children provided information on at least one of the key measurements, related to mood and cognition, and participants completed 22,349 batches of computer tasks.

The findings suggest that children should be encouraged to exercise at their own pace during short breaks from class, which may help them be more ready to learn when they return to the classroom. “Importantly, this exercise should be in addition to normal physical education and also at a time when the class teacher thinks the class would benefit the most from a break,” Booth noted.

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