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Shrinking Recess Part 4: Physical Health & Ability
posted by: Melissa | September 25, 2019, 06:22 PM   

Today we present the fourth installment in our blog series, Shrinking Recess. In today’s installment, we list the ways that recess can affect the physical health of our students. For each effect that we list, there will also be a key paper that you can read if you wish to learn more. As always, you can read the entire series at Muddy Smiles. Read on below to see the effects that recess has physical health.


One of the most obvious and tremendous benefits provided by recess is the opportunity for daily physical activity. For some kids, physical games played at recess and time spent in P.E. class construe the majority of their physical activity. While this obviously isn’t ideal, it’s still a reality for some children, who really need this time to get moving outside.

An accelerometer was used to monitor the activity of over 200 children between the ages of 5 and 10 with a near-equal gender ratio. This study, which tested children from 23 schools, demonstrated that the presence of recess in the school day increased the physical activity of both boys and girls by a significant 28%. (Source)

Key study/paper: Nicola D. Ridgers (2003). “Assessing Physical Activity during recess using accelerometry”. Preventive Medicine 41(1):102-107. 


Difficulties with vision can make life tough in and out of the classroom for kids. When children are nearsighted, they may have no trouble picking out the finest details of objects in their hand, but the blackboard may be unreadable from only a few rows back when they’re in school. Far away objects look blurry to nearsighted kids, who may struggle with playing sports. Surprisingly, recess has been shown to have benefits in reducing the likelihood of myopia, the condition that causes nearsightedness.

571 Taiwanese students were recruited to participated in a study determining the effect of outdoor recess on myopia changes. This group was divided into two units, one that would participate in recess and another that would not. After a year, 8.41% of those who had participated in recess showed new onset of myopia, while 17.65% of those who had no recess showed new onset of the condition. The children who took recess also had a lower myopic shift, signifying continued eye health. (Source)

Key study/paper: Pei-chang Wu, Hsi-Kung Kuo et al. (2013). “Outdoor activity during recess reduces myopia onset and progression in school children”. Ophthalmology 120(5):1080-1085 


It’s common sense that regular physical activity is a big part of what prevents kids from becoming obese, but providing opportunities for them to get outside for some real heart-pumping active play can be hard. This is especially true during the school year, where busy, demanding schedules make trips to the park and time in the backyard less common. For many kids, recess is a major source of physical activity, which is one of the best ways for kids to lower their risk of obesity.

One multi-level study correlated data relating to school environments and facilities, teacher’s responses, the growth of students, census-related socioeconomic info and obesity status pulled from digital health records to prove that the prevalence of obesity is significantly lower when schools offer daily recess and environments that encourage physical activity. (Source)

Key study/paper: Frederick Ka-Wing Ho, Thomas Wai-Hung Chung, (2017). “Childhood obesity and physical activity-friendly school environments”, The Journal of Pediatrics 191:110-116. 


The concept of counting steps isn’t just beneficial for adults. There’s a certain threshold of physical activity kids should meet in a day in order to stay healthy, and a surprising amount of kids aren’t quite getting there(in terms of steps, it’s between 12,000 and 16,000, for you’re curious). The popularity of sedentary hobbies like video games doesn’t help much, but cutting out recess can be a huge issue for kids who really need to be getting more movement out of their school day.

Socioeconomic, health, growth and teacher feedback data were all compiled into a cross-sectional study, the result of which illustrated that even small recesses can drastically increase the amount of physical activity children engage in on an average school day. A recess period lasting only 15 minutes has the potential to make up approximately 44% of their school-day step count. (Source)

Key study/paper: Rich, L. E. (2004). “Bringing more effective tools to the weight-loss table”. Monitor on Psychology, 4(1), 52–55. 


Establishing healthy habits can be tough for adults, which is why it’s especially important to start when they’re kids. Teaching kids to love getting outside and active helps them to develop a lifelong love of staying fit and being physical. It makes them less likely to become sedentary adults, benefits their lifelong cardiovascular health and helps to prevent childhood obesity. Recess is a time when kids learn to love to play hard.

In a 1997 study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines to help schools and communities develop programs and activities which would promote a lifelong love of physical activity among kids. Among the stated benefits of these programs is the fact that when kids are active, they tend to become active adults. This results in a lower risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol as well as many other avoidable causes of death. (Source)

Key study/paper: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1997) “Guidelines for school and community programs to promote lifelong physical activity among young people.” MMWR Recomm Rep. 46(RR-6):1–36 

This is a multipart series and we'll be releasing a new installment every week. You can read part three here and you can find part five here.

Arthur is a writer, researcher, and father with a keen interest in the science behind play. As chief editor for Muddy Smiles, he advocates for (loads) more unstructured play within education and at home.

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