The current guidelines for physical activity recommend that children should partake in regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes or more each day [1
]. Not only are children not meeting the recommended amount of physical activity but schools are also contributing to this culture of physical inactivity. In recent years, many school systems removed recess and/or physical education from their curriculum due to growing pressure to increase academic scores [2
]. In addition to the importance of physical activity for overall physical health and fitness, classroom behavior, academic skills, and attention may also improve in children with increasing physical activity [3
]. There appears to be a positive association between physical activity and academic performance and behavior; however, further research to delineate the ideal duration and intensity is warranted particularly in elementary school children [3
With the absence of physical activity during the school day, after-school programs have become a popular option to help children reach the recommended 60 minutes of activity. Unfortunately, children participating in after-school programs only engage in approximately 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity with most of their time spent in light or sedentary behavior [5
]. Modifying the structure of these school programs in order to better regulate the levels of physical activity in children may seem to be an appropriate response; however, when allowed to engage in unstructured “free-play”, children were significantly more likely to achieve physical activity levels considered to be of moderate to vigorous intensity. Trost et al. [5
] observed a 24–55% decrease in moderate to vigorous physical activity during an organized activity period compared to the preferable “free-play”.
A creative yet underutilized potential solution to engage children in physical activity may be before-school programs. Only one study to date was identified which examined the effects of a before-school physical activity program on overall physical activity. Mahar et al. [6
] observed children that participated in before-school physical activity were significantly more attentive throughout the day. Furthermore, these children did not become more inactive throughout the day when engaged in early activity [6
]. The study by Mahar et al. [6
] lends credence to the implementation of a before-school physical activity program to help children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity without taking time away from academics; however much more research is warranted.
With physical inactivity deemed as a significant contributing factor to childhood overweight and obesity and with the vast majority of children’s time spent in school, this may be the ideal location for implementing physical activity interventions [7
]. The objective of the proposed study is to examine the effect of an unstructured, moderate to vigorous, before-school physical activity program on academic performance, classroom behavior, emotions, and other health related measures. The proposed study may provide insight to the relationship between physical activity and academic performance as well as assist in the design of future physical activity interventions. Moreover, to the authors’ knowledge, no study has examined the effect of an unstructured, before-school physical activity program. Therefore, the proposed study protocol represents a novel approach to increasing physical activity in children.