School physical activity breaks are currently being proposed as a way to improve students' learning. However, there is no clear evidence of the effects of active school breaks on academic-related cognitive outcomes.
The present systematic review with meta-analysis scrutinized and synthesized the literature related to the effects of active breaks on students' attention. On January 12th, 2021, PubMed, PsycINFO, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science were searched for published interventions with counterbalanced cross-over or parallel-groups designs with a control group, including school-based active breaks, objective attentional outcomes, and healthy students of any age. Studies' results were qualitatively synthesized, and meta-analyses were performed if at least three study groups provided pre-post data for the same measure.
Results showed some positive acute and chronic effects of active breaks on attentional outcomes (i.e., accuracy, concentration, inhibition, and sustained attention), especially on selective attention. However, most of the results were not significant. The small number of included studies and their heterogeneous design are the primary limitations of the present study. Although the results do not clearly point out the positive effects of active breaks, they do not compromise students' attention. The key roles of intensity and the leader of the active break are discussed. INPLASY registration number: 202110054.
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