students stretching together in class

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tedious college lectures can feel like you’re sitting in class forever, but new research is offering up a novel solution to help break up the boredom and boost everyone’s learning skills. Scientists at The Ohio State University say exercise breaks during long lectures help both professors and students stay focused and energized.

More specifically, one Ohio State professor showed that five-minute exercise sessions during lectures were not only feasible but also capable of having a positive impact on students’ attention and motivation, engagement with their peers, and course enjoyment. The results may not be particularly shocking, but they do present an actionable solution for a long-standing issue in college classrooms, explains Scott Hayes, author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

“Nobody can stay on task for 80 minutes straight without their mind wandering and their attention waxing and waning,” Prof. Hayes says in a media release. “If you give students a break and get their bodies moving for just a few minutes, it can help them get their minds back to the lecture and probably be more productive. I know it helps me, as well.”

Prof. Hayes explains that he was inspired to conduct this research by a similar laboratory-based study that focused on how students responded to exercise breaks during a single video lecture. That project came to positive conclusions, but Prof. Hayes still wondered if such an approach to education could work in the real world of in-person university lectures and over the course of a full semester.

Bored high school student in class
Scientists at The Ohio State University say exercise breaks during long lectures help both professors and students stay focused and energized. (© WavebreakMediaMicro – stock.adobe.com)

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, tested the strategy in four of Hayes’ own classes. One to two student-led exercise sessions (five minutes each) took place in each lecture during upper-level psychology courses with 20 to 93 students. Each class was 80 minutes long.

At the beginning of the course, Prof. Hayes separated the class into small groups, with each group being responsible for the development of a five-minute exercise session. He then reviewed the exercise sessions beforehand to ensure they were workable and safe.

“I wanted the students to design and lead the sessions because I thought it would help them buy into the idea, and help with their engagement and investment,” the study author says.

Prof. Hayes admits the sessions were sometimes awkward, especially at the beginning of the semester. The students didn’t know exactly how to act, and they certainly weren’t used to doing something like this in a classroom setting. Eventually, the students loosened up and had fun with the sessions. Some of the exercises performed by students included jumping jacks, lunges, overhead presses (with a backpack), and hamstring stretches. A few groups got creative in designing their sessions.

“One of the groups designed a theme of going to an orchard and picking apples. So they had their fellow students reaching up as if they were picking apples from a tree and reaching down to put them in a basket,” Prof. Hayes notes.

Prof. Hayes adds he knew the program was a success when students spontaneously provided anonymous comments with their end-of-semester student evaluations. One student’s comment sums up a common sentiment: “I enjoyed the exercise breaks in class and really felt like they motivated me to focus more.”

During one of the classes, Prof. Hayes provided the students with a survey at the end of the course regarding the exercise sessions. Everyone reported that they had never taken a class that had an exercise break during the lecture. Students also rated the exercise breaks as improving attention, being enjoyable, and improving overall peer engagement. They reported that, in comparison to other classes, they preferred the class with an exercise break and would like more classes to offer similar sessions.

One lingering question is if these exercise sessions actually improved student learning and grades. Prof. Hayes admits the answer to that query is beyond the scope of this study. Furthermore, it would be very difficult to perform that kind of research. Comparisons of different classes, at various times of day, and among a variety of teachers would make comparisons a serious challenge, he explains.

Still, this project uncovered that exercise breaks are feasible in a classroom setting and that students enjoy such activities and find them useful. Prof. Hayes believes the approach is worth a try among other faculty, and some of his colleagues have already started experimenting with exercise in the classroom.

“Two colleagues in the psychology department here at Ohio State have told me they have started exercise breaks in their courses,” Prof. Hayes concludes. “It may be catching on.”

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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