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Hannah Wold found in a recent study that reading effectiveness significantly improves after physical activity.

Hannah Wold shown in her graduation cap and gown

Living an active life has always been important to Hannah Wold. During her time at BYU, she was on the ballroom dance team and the swim team. She danced through college, which lead her to assist in teaching ballroom dance and taking a dance class with her husband. Wold graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and has since found a way to combine her love of fitness with her teaching career.

Following her graduation, Wold taught second grade for one year in Utah’s Provo City School District and has taught for four years in Alpine School District. A year after graduation, she returned to BYU to pursue a master’s of arts in teacher education and graduated in 2019. During her master’s degree she studied the relationship between elementary school students’ reading fluency and physical activity.

One of Wold’s former professors, David Barney, does research on motivating students through music. This inspired Wold to take a different approach. Barney got her connected with a student at Texas A&M University who was writing his dissertation on the subject of education and exercise. His research influenced her own. “I didn't know I was so passionate about this until I started really looking at it and thinking, ‘this is a real thing,’” said Wold. Her study is one of the first that contains statistically significant data that indicates there is a connection between physical activity and reading fluency scores.

In her study, Wold observed 384 participants for a year. She divided participants into four groups. Two groups were tracked based on the daily physical activity they did in their classroom. The two control groups did not do any physical activity in the classroom. Wold said there is a lot of research on how physical activity can affect students’ ability to perform in math, but none that focuses on reading effectiveness. Through her research, Wold concluded that the children she worked with who read after doing acute bouts of physical activity had considerably higher reading scores in the areas of words per minute read, their accuracy, and their ability to remember and retell the story they just read.

Wold explained that when they tested the students on their reading skills after they had done physical exercise, “it was interesting because the students would be sitting out of breath and they were able to read. Their retention and accuracy were both substantially improved. It was fascinating to see and to find evidence that physical activity does make a difference.”

Wold hopes her research will progress through peer reviews, get published and her findings will add to the body of knowledge on the connection between physical activity and reading effectiveness. Her chair, David Barney, says, “Hannah’s research is truly groundbreaking, no one has ever been able to create a study that truly links physical activity to reading fluency before.”

All of the schools that participated in Wold’s research are considered to be Title One schools, where fifty percent or more of the students are on free or reduced lunch. Wold found this noteworthy because the students who are getting the most impact out of her research are the elementary school students who are most at risk to not graduate high school.    

Wold wants to continue helping students improve their skills in the classroom, not just for the better scores, but because she truly cares about them. “It's not just about second-grade curriculum, it's really about how they can love learning and be lifelong learners. And within that realm, the whole goal of BYU is ‘Enter to learn; go forth to serve.’ I feel like in my classroom, I can serve my students.”


Writer: Sariah Farmer 

Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562