Table 1

Characteristics of the articles analysed.

Article Study objective Sample Measurement instrument VariablesOutcomes 
Contreras-Jordán et al. (2020)Ascertain the influence of AB on children’s attention and concentration N = 73 children aged 9-11 years d2 Test of Attention Attention and concentration Significant improvement in attention and concentration after 10 sessions of 15 minutes of AB. 
Watson et al. (2019)Assess the feasibility and efficacy of a 6-week active break pilot programme on academic achievement, class-room behaviour and physical activity. N = 374 children aged 8-10 years 
Wheldall Assessment of Reading Passages (WARP) Test 
Westwood One Minute Test of Basic Number Facts 
ActiGraph GT3-X accelerometer 
Direct Behaviour Rating Scale 
Academic achievement 
Classroom behaviour 
On-task behaviour at the individual level was shown to increase in the intervention group, with greater improvements observed in boys. However, there was no intervention effect on classroom on-task behaviour at whole class level. No intervention effects were found for mathematics, reading or PA during the school day. 
Janssen et al. (2014)The objective of this study was to gain an insight into the acute effects of a short bout of physical activity on selective attention in primary school children. N = 123 children aged 10-11 years TEA-Ch testAttention in the classroom Attention scores after the PA break were significantly better (p < .001) than after the ‘no break’ condition. Attention scores were best after the moderate intensity PA break. 
Egger et al. (2019)The objective of the study was to examine the effects of AB with high physical exertion and high cognitive engagement (combo group), high physical exertion and low cognitive engagement (aerobic group), or low physical exertion and high cognitive engagement (cognition group). N = 142 children aged 7-9 years Self-Assessment Manikin
ActiGraph GT3X
Eriksen flanker task
Heidelberger Rechentest
Hamburger Schreib-Probe (HSP 1–10)
Salzburger Lesescreening
PA level 
Academic performance 
Cognitive outcomes (mathematics, spelling and reading, etc.) 
The combo group benefited by showing improved cognitive demand. The cognition group benefited only in terms of academic performance, while the aerobic group remained unaffected. 
The inclusion of cognitively engaging PA breaks seems to be a promising way to enhance schoolchildren’s cognitive functions. 
Mok et al. (2020)Evaluate the effectiveness of a programme in changing children’s attitudes toward PA.N = 3036 pupils aged 8-11 yearsAttitudes toward Physical Activity Scale (APAS) Attitudes toward doing PA This study provides evidence about improvements in terms of learning experience, attitudes towards PA and personal motivation.
Schmidt et al. (2016)Ascertain the separate and/or combined effects of physical exertion and cognitive engagement induced by physical activity breaks on primary school children’s attention. N = 92 children aged 11-12 years Test D2
Pupils’ attention Physical exertion had no effect on any measure of children’s attentional performance. Cognitive engagement was the crucial factor leading to increased focused attention and enhanced processing speed. 
Suarez-Manzano et al. (2018)Analyse studies assessing the effect of integrated PA performance during school breaks on attention in children and adolescents. Systematic review Pupils’ attentionAll the studies used physical exercise of moderate-vigorous intensity lasting between 5 and 30 min. Seven studies showed improvement and two showed no change. Differences were found according to sex. Finally, the influence of the duration and intensity of the intervention was observed. 
Paschen et al. (2019)Investigate the effects of exercise with low and high cognitive demands on speed of processing and accuracy of performance in tasks examining inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility in children. Systematic review Working memory 
Cognitive flexibility 
Ten studies with a total of 890 participants revealed positive effects on working memory performance after exercise with low cognitive demands compared to seated rest, mixed results for inhibition after exercise with high and low cognitive demands and mixed results for cognitive flexibility with low cognitive demands. 
Mavilidi et al. (2020)Investigate whether physical activity could decrease anxiety levels and improve maths test performance in sixth-grade children. N = 68 children aged 11-12 years The Cognitive Anxiety test Questionnaire
Math Test
Anxiety levels 
Academic performance 
Low-anxiety level pupils performed better in the maths test than high-anxiety level children. No differences were found for any of the variables between the activity break condition and the control condition.
Mavilidi et al. (2019)This study examined the effects of different types of classroom physical activity breaks on children’s ontask behaviour, academic achievement and cognition. N = 87 pupils aged 9-11 years Behaviour observation of students in schools
The Applied behaviour analysis for teachers
Individual Basic Facts Assessment Tool
The Flanker test
On-task behaviour 
Academic performance 
Executive functions 
Significant effects were found for on-task behaviour. Academic performance in mathematics was improved. No effect on executive functions was found. 
Schmidt et al. (2019)Investigate the effects of specifically designed physical activities on foreign language vocabulary learning and attentional performance. N = 104 children aged 8-10 years Cued recall test
Test D2
Academic performance 
Embedded learning with PA was more effective in teaching children new words than the control condition. However, children’s focused attention did not differ across the three conditions. 
Masini et al. (2020)Investigate the effects of AB on PA levels, classroom behaviour, cognitive functions and academic performance in primary school children. Systematic review PA level 
Classroom behaviour 
Cognitive functions 
Academic performance 
A significant effect was found in increasing PA levels in primary school children. Regarding classroom behaviour, time spent on task during lessons significantly increased. On the other hand, the effects on cognitive functions and academic achievement (mathematics, reading) were not conclusive. 
Mazzoli et al. (2019)Assess the feasibility of implementing a cognitively challenging motor task as an AB in schools. n = 12 teachers and 
n = 34 pupils 
Interviews Effect of implementing ABs in classrooms Teachers viewed the cognitively challenging motor task as appropriate and potentially beneficial for children. Children reported enjoying the ABs. Teachers in special schools viewed the task as complex and potentially frustrating for children. 
Buchele-Harris et al. (2018)This study examined the effects of 4-week, daily 6-minute ABs on attention and concentration in school-aged children. N = 116 pupils age 10 years Test D2Attention and concentrationSignificant increases in processing speed and attention span were found compared to the control group. There was significant improvement in the pupils’ concentration performance. 
Mahar (2011)The study’s objective was to describe the measurement of on-task behaviour and review the research on the effects of short physical activity breaks on attention-to-task in primary school pupils. Systematic review Attention The limited evidence suggests a small improvement in attention-to-task following PA breaks.  Pupils who participated in classroom-based physical activities that incorporate academic concepts demonstrated significantly better improvements in attention-to-task than control group participants. 
Routen et al. (2017)The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which ABs are implemented and also investigate how they affect school performance. 5 classes of 9-10 year-olds The Children’s Activity Rating Scale
The School Physical Activity Promotion Competence Questionnaire
Actigraph accelerometer (GT3X or GT3X+)
Test D2
Cognitive functions 
PA level 
No results were found, as the programme has not been implemented. 
Rizal et al. (2019)The purpose of this study was to measure the effect of this programme on the stages of change, decisional balance, processes of change, self-efficacy and leisure-time exercise among Malay ethnic primary school children. N = 322 children aged 10-11 years Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire (GLTEQ)
The process of change questionnaire
Plotniko 10-item decisional balance scale
The three-factor, 18-item self-ecacy scale originated from Bandura
Processes of change 
Decisional balance 
It showed significant changes in cognitive processing. In addition, a significant interaction effect was observed for stages of change. 
Morris et al. (2019)Show improvements in PA and educational benefits such as executive function and academic performance using The Daily Mile (TDM). N = 303 
8.99 ± 0.5 years 
EF tests (Trail Making Task; Digit Recall; Flanker; Animal Stroop) 
Maths fluency test (Maths Addition and Subtraction, Speed and Accuracy Test). 
GT9X, GT3X + accelerometers
Executive functions 
Academic performance 
TDM revealed significantly greater PA (+10.23 min) and reduced sedentary time (−9.28 min) compared to control. Academic performance improved significantly. 
Ruiz-Hermosa et al. (2019)Evaluate the link between active commuting to and from school and academic achievement in children and adolescents. Systematic review Cognitive performance and academic achievement No differences were found in executive functions. 
There was insufficient evidence regarding the relationship between active commuting to and from school and cognitive performance and academic achievement.