Why Students Need Brain Breaks & How You Can Help by Real Mom Nutrition

Kids sit an awful lot in school these days. With some schools in the country limiting recess, reducing or even cutting PE classes, and placing a bigger focus on test scores (and test prep), children spend serious time being sedentary.

Why Movement Matters

Being seated for long periods of time has some major drawbacks for kids. Not only does it make it tough for them to get enough physical activity in the day, but it also makes it harder to actually pay attention and learn.

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, writes in the Washington Post:

Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

Movement actually does “turn on” the brain. Look how activity can literally light up areas of a child’s brain that allow for better learning:

Why Kids Need "Brain Breaks" by Real Mom Nutrition

How Brain Breaks Can Help

It may not be realistic for schools to add in more time for recess or extra PE. But students can easily be given “Brain Breaks” throughout the day. Brain Breaks are short, energizing bursts of activity that boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help kids better retain information. It can be as simple as taking five minutes to stand up, stretch, and run in place next to the desk. My son’s first grade teacher takes the class on a short walk around the building every day. Research has shown that Brain Breaks increase students’ on-task behavior AND the amount of physical activity they get every day so it’s a win-win. (Read more here.)

Ideally, students should get multiple Brain Breaks in the day and be active in other ways as well. Here’s an ideal schedule for students, compliments of fellow dietitian Dayle Hayes, who presented the information at a workshop I attended at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo:

  • Walk to school
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess*
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers

*It’s been shown that kids waste less food, eat more fruits and vegetables, and have better behavior when they have recess BEFORE lunch versus after lunch. (Read more here.)

What You Can Do

If you’re a teacher, consider incorporating Brain Breaks into the day. If you’re a parent, talk to your child’s teacher about the idea. Here are some resources and videos that make Brain Breaks easy and fun to do. And they’re FREE!

Move to Learn Fitness Energizers: More than 30 fitness videos for students K-8 with routines kids can do alongside their desks.

Energizers for Grades K-2: Ideas for incorporating academic concepts into physical activity, such as games that mix jumping and running in place with learning letters and numbers.

Go Noodle Brain Breaks: Tons of free, short videos to get kids moving in the classroom, including short Zumba routines (my son’s teacher uses these when they have indoor recess and he loves it!).

Time for 10: Free 10-minute fitness videos featuring fitness experts and kids, with themes like kickboxing, core, and flexibility.

Adventure to Fitness: Videos that incorporate physical activity and common core-aligned learning, like jogging (in place) through Yellowstone National Park. Free registration gives teachers access to some videos; more are available with a paid subscription.

Teach Train Love: This teacher has compiled several lists of fun Brain Break videos from YouTube.

Action for Healthy Kids: A Pinterest page full of classroom brain break ideas, including some for middle school.

Big thanks to Dayle Hayes for supplying the brain scan graphic and ideal school schedule. Check out Dayle’s blog School Meals That Rock and her School Meals That Rock Facebook page for ideas, inspiration, and photos of school meals from across the country that celebrate “what is RIGHT with school nutrition in America”.


Falling Off The Exercise Wagon (And Getting Back On) by Real Mom Nutrition

Confession: I’ve really struggled with exercise since having kids. I was a faithful gym-goer in my pre-parent days, logging hours in step classes, on Stairmasters and ellipticals, and even with a trainer in my 20s. But having children just derailed me.

It was always something: Unrelenting nausea in pregnancy, a colicky baby, a needy toddler, a work deadline, a thousand things to do instead of going to yoga, the unreasonable and self-inflicted (but ever present) guilt over taking me-time.

In ten years of being a mother, I’ve found my way back to exercise many times. Sometimes it’s held for a while (read: “How I Got My (Fitness) Groove Back“). Sometimes it’s lasted until a stomach bug, family vacation, or work project thwarted my efforts again.

After an embarrassingly long hiatus, I was recently inspired to make fitness a priority after reading Younger Next Week by Elisa Zied. Elisa, also a dietitian and mom, is on top of her game–and in her 40s, she looks fantastic. She posts about her daily workouts on Facebook and Twitter to inspire others. And she makes a convincing case in her book that women can’t afford to keep putting everything (and everyone) above their own self care, especially as they get older.

Before I climbed back on the exercise wagon this time around, I decided to get real with myself. There were few truths I had to face if I wanted this to stick:

I am not a morning person. Sure, 5:30am is an ideal time to workout. When I’ve done it, I feel like a superhero afterwards. But I hate 5:30am. Since I don’t have a baby to feed or a ready-for-playtime toddler rousing me, I want to sleep at 5:30am. If I set my alarm for an early workout, I dread it. I think angry thoughts about exercise. I find excuses to bail. I finally gave myself permission to admit that it wasn’t for me and found another time (that wasn’t as convenient but that I could still manage). Then I actually started looking forward to working out.

I can’t always go it alone. I’ve had some success with workout DVDs. But eventually, I need actual people who aren’t making the same corny jokes and motivational speeches every. single. time. Having a real, live instructor also pushes me to work harder (the gal on TV won’t notice if I skip that last rep or half-ass my push-ups). I found a class three days a week with a great instructor and a friendly group of women–and they’ll notice if I stop showing up.

I need to schedule it. For real this time. I’ve heard the tip a million times–I’ve even dispensed it myself: “Schedule your workouts like you would any other appointment”. In theory, I’ve always thought that was a terrific idea. But in reality, I let practically anything (a last-minute invitation from a friend, a phone call, a work deadline ) take precedence. Now I schedule around my exercise class, even if that means (gasp!) saying no to things sometimes.

I am not hardcore. I used to think that if I couldn’t exercise at least five days a week–or if I wasn’t pushing myself to the limit and ending up a sweaty mess–why bother? But this all-or-nothing attitude kept me sidelined for too long. Frankly, I don’t want to do Crossfit or train for a triathlon. And that’s okay. My thrice-weekly workouts make me feel stronger, inside and out.

Tell me: Do you struggle with consistency when it comes to exercise? When you fall off the wagon, how do you get back on?


4 Days of Giveaways: Fitness Watch

March 17, 2012

This is Day 3 of my 4 Days of Giveaways! I’m hosting a different giveaway every day. *This giveaway has ended. Thanks to all who entered! Sometimes a cool fitness gadget is all you need to get motivated. Today’s giveaway is a Reebok InShape Fitness Watch. It tracks calories burned, speed, distance, steps, and total […]

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4 Days of Giveaways: Reebok Pedometer

March 14, 2012

Some cool stuff has come my way lately, so I thought I’d share it with you. I’ll be hosting a different giveaway every day for four days.  Since I’ve been sidelined from running and jumping (thanks a lot, old knees!), walking has been my exercise of choice. That, and trying to stay as active as […]

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What I Learned from the Fitness Challenge

December 12, 2011

It is with a mixture of pride and embarrassment that I announce: I exercised 12 days in a row! Pride because I haven’t exercised 12 days in a row for about two years. Embarrassment because well, I haven’t exercised 12 days in a row for about two years. I started the 12 Days of Fitness […]

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Giveaway: Adjustable Resistance Band

December 11, 2011

You may remember that I once mocked the mere suggestion of exercising while doing mundane household chores (see that post here). But since starting the 12 Days of Fitness Challenge and struggling to find free moments in the day to work out, I’ve warmed up to the idea of that kind of multitasking. So when […]

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Fitness Challenge Giveaway: My (Second) Favorite Workout DVD

December 3, 2011

I am hopelessly devoted to Jillian Michaels’ exercise DVDs. It all began two years ago with the 30 Day Shred, which brought me back from the depths of a post-baby funk that I wrote about here. I love that workout because it’s fast (25 minutes!) and efficient, with circuits of strength training, cardio, and abs. Though […]

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Join the Project 40 Fitness Challenge!

November 29, 2011

I’m one-third of the way through Project 40, and one thing is crystal clear: I’m failing miserably at my exercise goals. I’ve all but stopped eating at the computer, and evening snacks barely tempt me anymore. But the exercise. Oh, the exercise. I’m not sure what my problem is. I’m busy, but I’ve been busy before. I’m tired, […]

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Project 40: October FAIL

November 7, 2011

I’m not gonna lie: Project 40 is off to a rocky start. The inaugural month started off strong. I successfully ran the 5K and raised $545 for Donna’s Good Things. A mammoth thank you to all who contributed! I made a chart with my goals and was checking off little boxes and taking names: I wasn’t […]

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Project 40: Slow and Steady Finishes the Race

October 23, 2011

You don’t realize how slow you are until you’re in a crowd of 4,000 runners–and about 3,000 of them pass you. Including grandpas and small children. But no matter. I ran a 5K for Donna this morning in the brilliant sunshine. I ran the whole thing without stopping, which was my goal. And I only […]

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