HIIT Improves Health, Can It Improve Attention?

High-intensity interval training, commonly referred to as HIIT workouts, have been shown to improve adults’ physical and mental health. This type of physical training involves repeated brief, high intensity exercises followed by varied recovery times. The benefits of HIIT workouts in adults has inspired researchers to examine the effect of similar exercises in the classroom. Can four minutes of physical activity improve attention and behavior in the classroom?

In this study, researchers observed the classroom behavior of students in grade 2 and 4 classrooms after they were given an "active" or "non-active break." Over the course of three weeks, students completed their lessons each day followed by one of these types of breaks.

Break It Down

During the "no-activity" break days, students spent 10 minutes after a lesson learning facts about nutrition and health.

During the "activity" break days, students performed high-intensity exercises for a total of four minutes within a 10 minute timeframe.

Each exercise involved a 20-second storyline, such as "making s'mores," along with quick movements such as lunging, jumping, and squatting. The exercise was followed by 10 seconds of rest and then repeated for eight intervals. This is similar to the type of HIIT training found in many exercise programs for adults.

The researchers then observed and record children’s task-related behavior in the 50 minutes following the active and non-active breaks. 

Kick Off-Task Behavior

The researchers found improved attentiveness and reduced fidgeting and off-task behavior following the high-intensity exercise breaks compared to the no-activity breaks.

Researchers also reported that children appeared attentive and eager to learn after participating in the quick, enthusiastic movements.

An additional benefit of HIIT training is that the exercises can easily be modified for any fitness level. And for children, developing creative storylines to accompany the exercises is a fun and simple way to peak their interest (who wouldn’t want to "make s’mores” as a workout?!). Have fun creating your own stories or search the web for kid-friendly ideas and videos found at sites like FitnessBlender.

StepUp Summary

StepUp programs further emphasize the importance of physical fitness while learning. Each day students work through one complete level of movement exercises which take about 20 minutes to complete. By combining movement, rhythm, and repetition with an early learning curriculum, StepUp programs help children improve fluency in reading, math, and handwriting.


Ready to try? Start your 30-day trial of StepUp to Learn now


Researchers agree that simple, high-intensity exercises help children learn and stay attentive in class. As little as four minutes of physical activity may improve attentiveness! What exercises have you tried to help your students stay focused?

P.S. If you liked this post, why not get our Learning in Motion email?
Awesome, research-based ideas for learning enrichment. Get on the list.