U of T’s Online Movement Breaks Available to All Classes in Fall

August 27/2020

By Francoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Pre-pandemic, students swayed back-and-forth to a choreographed Sean Paul routine in one of Prof. Ananya Banerjee’s well-known movement breaks.

For just three minutes to break up long classes, Banerjee goes through a choreographed routine to get students moving. Now, the pilot project will be rolled out school-wide and online.

“We started the movement breaks with our health behaviour change class because I’m a kinesiologist by training, and I was able to do it in a way that is successful and safe for the students,” says Banerjee, the project co-lead. “In its first year, the students loved it. In the course evaluation, that’s all that students talked about.”

Banerjee and project co-lead Prof Jackie Bender received a provost office grant to roll out the movement breaks across the school. The Learning & Education Advancement Fund (LEAF) grant will support them in creating more videos that can be used during virtual classes. Professors can access the videos in Open UToronto, the hub for faculty members.

Before the pandemic, approximately 1,350 students from computer science, engineering and social sciences participated in the movement break pilot project. Both DLSPH professors recently completed an evaluative study and the results were positive. The students really liked the breaks.

Movement break leads - Prof. Ananya Banerjee, Ashley Lau and Prof. Jackie Bender

Movement break leads – Prof. Ananya Banerjee, Ashley Lau and Prof. Jackie Bender

“Participating in movement breaks was associated with greater physical, emotional, social and psychological well-being for those who participated regularly,” says Bender.

The researchers conducted a quasi-experimental study design where some classes were exposed to the movement break and others were not. The classes in the experimental group had one to two movement breaks per class depending on length for the semester’s entirety. They also assessed the extent to which students participated in the movement breaks – zero to four breaks, five to eight breaks, or nine to all twelve breaks.

“What we found is that people who participated more regularly – nine to 12 times throughout the course – experienced the greatest benefit. So, participating a couple of times in a movement break over the term may not have much of an effect but if you participate consistently in each class, we found that it improves your physical, emotional, psychological and social wellbeing,” says Bender.

Profs also applied a multi-dimensional measure of engagement and found that the breaks lead to an increase in active collaborative learning, discussion with peers and reflective and integrative learning, regardless of duration and frequency.

The initiative was inspired by a five-year-old IHPME study. Researcher and DLSPH Prof. Aviroop Biswas found that sitting for prolonged periods increased the risk of chronic disease. The association is pronounced among people who do not engage in physical activity at all.

Now, Bender and Banerjee plan to expand their video offerings, but they need some help. “We would like to recruit certified instructors to help us develop three-minute videos that we can use for the movement breaks,” says Bender. Instructors include kinesiologists, certified yogis, dance instructors and other physical trainers.

“We want to make sure that the movement breaks are led by people who know how to put together an appropriate routine that is safe and suitable for a three-minute break in a classroom setting or at home for online learning. ”

They are hoping to get at least 15 to 20 more videos by September just before the start of the school year from students with diverse backgrounds.

Student Ashley Lau who has been working with both Profs to develop the videos as part of her practicum placement hopes that exercises instructors at U of T will share their talents with the community.

“The benefits of movement breaks are more than just physical fitness, but in other aspects of one’s wellbeing and engagement. Especially now and in the near future, dealing with work/study-from-home, I think it is more important than ever to introduce these types of initiatives for students,” says Lau, an MPH student in epidemiology.

“I did start to notice when you have the Jonas Brothers playing, students get even more excited,” says Banerjee. “We’re hoping to have videos with mainstream music to make it relatable.”

If you’re a student interested in creating a movement break or a faculty member interested in incorporating movement breaks in your classroom, please click on the following link for further information.