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Fact Sheet: Movement Breaks in the Classroom (Grades K-5)

The information provided here is intended to be used for educational purposes. Links to other resources and websites are intended to provide additional information aligned with this educational purpose.

Not all students have access to safe streets, playgrounds, or spaces to be physically active. Movement breaks in the classroom provide students with the opportunity to be physically active and help them meet the national physical activity standards1 of at least 60 minutes per day.

  • Movement breaks are short physical activity opportunities done in the classroom.
  • Only one in four children2 meets the national recommendations1 of physical activity. Movement breaks can supplement other school physical activity opportunities, like recess and physical education, to help more children meet physical activity guidelines.3,4
  • Students enjoy having opportunities to be physically active in the classroom, and movement breaks allow students to refocus and bring full attention back to academic work.5-7

Movement breaks can help teachers create a positive classroom climate and culture.8

  • Movement breaks in the classroom can increase students’ time spent on tasks3,4 and engagement in learning.4
  • Movement breaks can help with classroom management when implemented appropriately.4,5
  • Students say they can focus and learn better and are more excited about school after movement breaks.6,7
  • Teachers enjoy leading movement breaks. When teachers participate in the breaks, they can also experience the health benefits of being physically active.4

Childhood is a crucial period for developing movement skills and healthy habits. Providing students with physical activity will help them build a foundation for overall health and well-being.

  • Regular physical activity can reduce anxiety, stress, and symptoms of depression and improve self-esteem.1
  • Active students generally have better heart and lung health, stronger muscles and bones, and healthier body weight than inactive students.1
  • Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, attendance at school, memory, and attention.9

Experts agree that students should have opportunities for classroom physical activity. Teachers can help students meet the physical activity recommendations by incorporating movement breaks in the classroom.10-12

  • Providing resources and proper training in effective ways to promote movement in the classroom can increase teacher uptake and confidence in implementation and provide children with opportunities for physical activity.4
  • Some tips to help teachers run movement breaks are:

Introduce and demonstrate activity breaks using a video or other examples.7 Tailor the breaks to the context of your classroom.4

Be consistent with the days and times you do movement breaks.7

Outline expectations for students and make sure children are aware of their physical space.7 Modify activities to allow all students to participate in the breaks.4 Deep breaths after the movement break can help students transition to the next activity.5

Participate in the movement break activities with the students when possible.4

Explain the benefits of moving during the school day and provide students with positive reinforcement, especially those who may find movement breaks more challenging.7

Consider students’ preferences when doing breaks.3 Students like movement breaks that allow choice, imagination, and that are at an appropriate level of difficulty. They do not like breaks that are too difficult or silly.6

Additional Resources


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018:118. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  2. Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. National Performance Measure 8.1: Percent of children, ages 6 through 11, who are physically active at least 60 minutes per day. Childhealthdata.org. Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.childhealthdata.org/browse/survey/results?q=9184&r=1
  3. The Community Preventive Services Task Force. Physical Activity: Classroom-based Physical Activity Break Interventions. The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Published August 9, 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/physical-activity-classroom-based-physical-activity-break-interventions
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Strategies for Classroom Physical Activity in Schools. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018:25. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/classroom-pa.htm
  5. Campbell AL, Lassiter JW. Teacher perceptions of facilitators and barriers to implementing classroom physical activity breaks. J Educ Res. 2020;113(2):108-119. doi:10.1080/00220671.2020.1752613
  6. Watson A, Timperio A, Brown H, Hesketh KD. Process evaluation of a classroom active break (ACTI-BREAK) program for improving academic-related and physical activity outcomes for students in years 3 and 4. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):633. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6982-z
  7. Cline A, Knox G, De Martin Silva L, Draper S. A Process Evaluation of A UK Classroom-Based Physical Activity Intervention—‘Busy Brain Breaks.’ Children. 2021;8(2):63. doi:10.3390/children8020063
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School-Based Physical Activity Improves the Social and Emotional Climate for Learning.Cdc.gov. Published March 29, 2021. Accessed March 9, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/school_based_pa_se_sel.htm
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010:84. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf
  10. SHAPE America. Shape of the Nation: Status of Physical Education in the USA. SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators. 2016:142. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.shapeamerica.org/advocacy/son/
  11. Institute of Medicine. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. National Academies Press. 2013:420. Accessed August 17, 2022. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/18314/educating-the-student-body-taking-physical-activity-and-physical-education
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Classroom Physical Activity. Cdc.gov. Published July 27, 2022. Accessed Oct 8, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/classroom-pa.htm

Suggested Citation

Get the Facts: Movement Breaks in the Classroom (Grades K-5). Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity Team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA; March 2023.


This work is supported by The JPB Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U48DP006376). The findings and conclusions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other funders. The information provided here is intended to be used for educational purposes. Links to other resources and websites are intended to provide additional information aligned with this educational purpose. 

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