Find Out Why ‘Body Breaks’ Improve Learning

Getting trainees moving during sessions increases brain function and improves learning, says one training expert.

Brain research conducted in the past decade has found that moving from a sitting position to a standing position increases oxygen to the brain by 15 to 20 percent and that more oxygen in the brain means better learning.

“It’s as simple as that,” says Sharon Bowman, president of Bowperson Publishing & Training ( and author of Using Brain Science to Make Training Stick, her latest book.

Specifically, Bowman points to research by molecular biologist John Medina in his book Brain Rules.

“Movement—any kind of motion—increases oxygen to the brain, thereby giving the brain a cognitive boost. Conversely, sitting for extended lengths of time makes thinking and learning more difficult to do because the oxygen levels in the body decrease,” Bowman explains.

She maintains that trainers need to build in opportunities for learners to move around during training. For example, at least every 10 to 20 minutes, trainees should be encouraged to:

  • Stand and stretch;
  • Turn and talk to those around them;
  • Bend and write;
  • Wiggle their arms and legs; or
  • Roll their heads and shoulders.

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Body Breaks

“You can also build movement into your content delivery by directing learners to do short, quick, topic-related review activities that include movement,” Bowman explains.

For example, she builds in “Body Breaks” to her training sessions—that is, 30- to 60-second exercises aimed at increasing oxygen to the brain and enhancing learning. She might have learners stand, stretch their arms, turn to the person next to them, and say three things that they learned from training content, explain one way they would use the information, or ask one topic-related question.

Another exercise is to have trainees walk to a wall chart and write a one-sentence summary of training content, write a question, or write an opinion.

Recognizing that some learners may  be resistant to taking Body Breaks, Bowman recommends telling trainees that these activities will help them learn more, but not requiring anyone to do them. Often, the resistant ones will start participating after they “realize that they’re missing the fun,” says Bowman.

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