Too Much Sitting at School Leads to Attention Lapses

There are as many parenting philosophies as there are parents, but one thing most parents probably agree on is that it’s good for kids to stay active. Running around outside beats hours parked in front of the TV any day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has consistently found that children who are more physically active also tend to do better in school. This fits with what we know about the brain-body connection: what’s good for one seems to be good for the other.

But there’s a contradiction here that sometimes gets overlooked. Children who are more physically active do better at school, yet school is often the least physically active environment children find themselves in! Classroom time can mean hours of sitting and listening passively to lectures.

A new study from researchers in Australia, Singapore and Italy suggests that sedentary time at school might come with a cost. Tracking 141 children across 15 classrooms, the researchers found that the more time children spent sitting at school, the more prone they were to lapses in attention. And needless to say, attention lapses are not very conducive to academic achievement!

This finding led the researchers to conclude that “reducing and breaking up sitting may help keep children focused.” Basically, we know that being physically active outside of school improves children’s academic performance, so it may be time to examine the benefits of being physically active in school as well.

Physical exercise and classroom learning might sound incompatible, but the researchers point out that there are several ways to make learning environments less sedentary. These include taking more frequent breaks, making lessons more active, or using tools like standing desks.

When we talk about children not getting enough exercise, it’s too easy just to blame the parents or to focus on screen time. Often, sedentary behavior means being at school, even if that’s inconvenient to acknowledge. The results of this latest study suggest that we should consider the potential advantages of restructuring traditional classroom environments to make them more active.