July 12, 2016

Jasmin K. Ma1, Lucy Le Mare2, & Brendon J. Gurd1
1 School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada.
2 Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada.

The decline in time devoted to recess and physical education in schools hints at where priorities have recently been placed in many school boards. However, there may be evidence that physical activity can play a role in not only improving health and fitness, but school performance as well.

A recent study by Jasmin K. Ma, Brendon Gurd, and colleagues of Queen’s University have worked to find a time-efficient, fun, and easy to implement solution to address the barrier of time, teachers are facing and appeal to the learning priorities of school administrators. FUNtervals, a resource comprised of very brief (4 minutes), in-class activities was developed and examined for their effects on classroom behaviour (Ma et al. 2014) and selective attention (Ma et al. 2015). The protocol (originally adapted from a high intensity interval training protocol that has previously shown similar fitness adaptations comparable to an hour of traditional endurance training (Tabata et al. 1996, Ma and Scribbans et al. 2013)) prescribes 20 seconds of activity separated by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 intervals. To make these high intensity interval activities more appealing to children, full body actions, such as squatting, jumping, and running are used to complement fun, interactive storylines. For example, in place of instructing students to do a squat and press, they are directed to imagine reaching for the top shelf to grab a bag of popcorn to place in a giant bowl on the ground in an effort to make popcorn for the entire school.

When comparing days where a sedentary break was completed to days where students performed a FUNterval, grade 4-5 students demonstrated decreases in motor and passive off- task behaviour as well as improvements in selective attention. This means students were less fidgety, getting out of their seats less often, making eye contact with the speaker, and demonstrating enhanced cognitive ability to attend to relevant stimuli following FUNtervals.

To date, FUNtervals have been implemented in countries across the world including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, South Africa, India, and the United States, to download your own copy, click here. When it comes to the inclusion of physical activity breaks in schools, perhaps playing hard means working hard.


Ma J.K. and Scribbans, T.D., Edgett, B.A., Boyd, C.J., Simpson, C.A., Little, J.P., and Gurd, B.J. 2013. Extremely low-volume, high-intensity interval training improves exercise capacity and increases mitochondrial protein content in human skeletal muscle. Open J. Mol. Integr. Physiol. 4(4).

Ma, J.K., Le Mare, L., and Gurd, B.J. 2014. Classroom based high-intensity interval activity improves off-task behaviour in primary school students. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 39(12): 1332–1337.

Ma, J.K., Mare, L. Le, and Gurd, B.J. 2015. Four minutes of in-class high-intensity interval activity improves selective attention in 9 – 11 year olds. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 40(3): 238-244.

Tabata, I., Nishimura, K., Kouzaki, M., Hirai, Y., Ogita, F., Miyachi, M., and Yamamoto, K. 1996. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med. Sci. Sport. Exerc. 28(10): 1327–1330. doi: 10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.

This article is a summary of an article published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism. If you intend citing any information in this article, please consult the original article and cite that source. This summary was written for the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and it has been reviewed by the CSEP Knowledge Translation Committee.

Original Article

Ma, J.K., Mare, L. Le, and Gurd, B.J. 2015. Four minutes of in-class high-intensity interval activity improves selective attention in 9 – 11 year olds. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 40(3): 238-244.