About Movement Breaks

Movement Break Logo with People Dancing


The 3-minute Movement Break initiative was created by Dr. Ananya Banerjee and Dr. Jackie Bender as a way to integrate movement into the academic learning environment. The goal was to improve student engagement and wellbeing.  

What is student engagement?

Student engagement is defined as “how involved or interested students appear to be in their learning and how connected they are to their classes, their institutions, and each other” (1). Accumulating evidence supports a multi-dimensional understanding of student engagement that incorporates academic (performance measures), behavioral (participation in class activities), emotional (attitude toward learning), cognitive (mental effort invested), and social (relationships with students and faculty) components (2).  

What inspired the creation of Movement Breaks?

Traditional schooling methods involve extended periods of time where students remain passively seated, which lead to disengagement and a reduced attention span (3). University students have higher levels of sedentary behaviours compared to the general young adult population (4). Giving students an opportunity for short bouts of movement during lectures can mitigate the negative effects of prolonged sitting in the classroom. An effective Movement Break could be as basic as a simple ‘stand, stretch and breath’ routine during time points in class when students appear disengaged (5). 

How did the Movement Breaks develop?

In 2015, Professors Banerjee and Bender incorporated Movement Breaks into their Health Behaviour Change graduate course at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health in response to evidence that showed the negative health effects of prolonged sitting (6). A satisfaction survey distributed to the class revealed the Movement Breaks were having a positive impact on student wellbeing and engagement in class. As one student explained: 

“I was relieved to hear that we would be having fit breaks —I often find my concentration drifting after longer periods of time simply due to sitting in the same position for so long feeling stiff and restless.” UofT student 

In 2017, Professors Banerjee and Bender launched the Movement Break Study along with collaborating Professors Hiliary Brown, Andrea Olive, Barbar Murck and Catherine Sabiston to examine the feasibility of integrating Movement Breaks in undergraduate classrooms at UofT to enhance student wellbeing and engagement. This project was funded by the Learning and Education Advancement Fund (LEAF) from the Vice, Provost, Innovations in Undergraduate Education at UofT. The study involved a quasi-experimental design where some classes received Movement Breaks and others did not. Over 1,300 students, from 19 different courses, across all 3 campuses of UofT participated in the study. The findings demonstrated that those who consistently participated in Movement Breaks over the term (e.g. 9-12 classes) experienced greater emotional, psychological, physical, and social wellbeing in class. In addition, student engagement improved regardless of the frequency or duration of participation in the Movement Breaks.  Among the students that participated in the Movement Breaks (n=912), a high proportion of students agreed that other course instructors should incorporate Movement Breaks into their classes.  


  1. Axelson RD, Flick A. Defining student engagement. Change: The magazine of higher learning. 2010 Dec 27;43(1):38-43. 
  2. Appleton JV CS, Kim D, Reschly AL. Measuring cognitive and psychological engagement: Validation of the Student Engagement Instrument. Journal of School Psychology 2006; 44(5):427-445. 
  3. Erwin H, Fedewan A, Sayeon AHN: Student Academic Performance Outcomes of a Classroom Physical Activity Intervention: A Pilot Study. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education 2013; 5(2):109-124.  
  4. Castro O, Bennie J, Vergeer I, Bosselut G, Biddle SJ. How sedentary are university students? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Prevention Science. 2020 Apr;21(3):332-43. 
  5. Jensen E. Teaching with the brain in mind. 2nd ed. ASCD; 2005 Jun 1. Chapter 4: Movement and Learning.  
  6. Biswas A, Oh PI, Faulkner GE, Bajaj RR, Silver MA, Mitchell MS, Alter DA. Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of internal medicine. 2015 Jan 20;162(2):123-32.