Youth Physical Activity and Enjoyment during Semi-Structured versus Unstructured School Recess


Background: Physical activity throughout the school day may help reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Semi-structured recess is a unique approach to create more physical activity. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to compare the physical activity and enjoyment of urban school children during traditional unstructured recess and semi-structured recess. Method: Children from the Southwestern US (N = 165) wore a NL-1000 piezoelectric accelerometer during their 15-minute lunch recess. Children participated in both their traditional unstructured (no structure and no equipment) recess and semi-structured (organized games and equipment) recess. An enjoyment scale was completed after both types of recess formats. Results: During unstructured recess, children accumulated 1028 ± 356 steps and 4.59 ± 2.2 minutes of MVPA compared to 1156 ± 434 steps and 5.44 ± 2.76 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during semi-structured recess. Paired sample t-tests revealed that children took significantly more steps (t = 4.98; p < 0.001) and MVPA (t = 5.940; p < 0.001) during semi-structured recess. No significant differences were found for enjoyment (p = 0.847) between recesses. Conclusions: It is important for schools to consider creative, semi-structured recess opportunities to increase step counts and time in MVPA (while maintaining enjoyment) and reinforce recess as an important component of a comprehensive school physical activity program.

Share and Cite:

Larson, J. , Brusseau, T. , Chase, B. , Heinemann, A. and Hannon, J. (2014) Youth Physical Activity and Enjoyment during Semi-Structured versus Unstructured School Recess. Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4, 631-639. doi: 10.4236/ojpm.2014.48072.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Strong, W.B., Malina, R.M., Blmkie, C.J.R., et al. (2005) Evidence Based Physical Activity for School-Aged Youth. Journal of Pediatrics, 146, 732-737.
[2] Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Kit, B.K. and Flegal, K.M. (2012) Prevalence of Obesity and Trends in Body Mass Index among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307, 483-490.
[3] Crombie, A.P., Ilich, J.Z., Dutton, G.R., Panton, L.B. and Abood, D.A. (2009) The Freshman Weight Gain Phenomenon Revisited. Nutrition Reviews, 67, 83-94.
[4] Gutin, B., Barbeau, P., Owens, S., et al. (2002) Effects of Exercise Intensity on Cardiovascular Fitness, Total Body Composition, and Visceral Adiposity of Obese Adolescents. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75, 818-826.
[5] Power, T.G., Ullrich-French, S., Steele, M.M., Daratha, K.B. and Bindler, R.C. (2011) Obesity, Cardiovascular Fitness, and Physically Active Adolescents’ Motivations for Activity: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12, 593-598.
[6] Colley, R.C., Janssen, I. and Tremblay, M.S. (2012) Daily Step Target Adherence to Physical Activity Guidelines in Children. Medicine Science in Sports Exercise, 44, 977-982.
[7] Verstraete, S.J.M., Cardon, G.M., De Clercq, D.L.R. and De Bourdeaudhuij, I.M.M. (2006) Increasing Children’s Physical Activity Levels during Recess Periods in Elementary Schools: The Effects of Providing Game Equipment. European Journal of Public Health, 16, 415-419.
[8] Dollman, J., Norton, K. and Norton, L. (2005) Evidence for Secular Trends in Children’s Physical Activity Behavior. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 892-897.
[9] Huberty, J.L., Siahpush, M., Beighle, A., Fuhrmeister, E., Silva, P. and Welk, G. (2011) Ready for Recess: A Pilot Study to Increase Physical Activity in Elementary School Children. Journal of School Health, 81, 251-257.
[10] Murray, R., Ramstetter, C., Devore, C., et al. (2013) The Crucial Role of Recess in School. Pediatrics, 131, 183-188.
[11] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI Percentile Chart for Child and Teen English Version.
[12] Brusseau, T.A., Kulinna, P.H., Tudor-Locke, C. and Ferry, M. (2013) Daily Physical Activity Patterns of Children Living in an American Indian Community. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 10, 48-53.
[13] Brusseau, T.A., Kulinna, P.H., Tudor-Locke, C., Ferry, M., Van Der Mars, H. and Darst, P.W. (2011) Pedometer-Determined Segmented Physical Activity Patterns of Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Children. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 8, 279-286.
[14] Tudor-Locke, C., Lee, S.M., Morgan, C.F., Beighle, A. and Pangrazi, R.P. (2006) Children’s Pedometer-Determined Physical Activity during the Segmented School Day. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38, 1732-1738.
[15] Ridgers, N.D., Stratton, G. and Fairclough, S.J. (2006) Physical Activity Levels of Children during School Playtime. Sports Medicine, 36, 359-371.
[16] Ramstetter, C.L., Murray, R. and Gardner, A.S. (2010) The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools. Journal of School Health, 80, 517-526.
[17] Ginsburg, K.R. (2007) The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182-191.
[18] Howe, C.A., Freedson, P.S., Alhassan, S., Feldman, H.A. and Osganian, S.K. (2011) A Recess Intervention to Promote Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity. Pediatric Obesity, 7, 82-88.
[19] Stellino, M.B., Sinclair, C.D., Partridge, J.A. and King, K.M. (2009) Differences in Children’s Recess Physical Activity: Recess Activity of the Week Intervention. Journal of School Health, 80, 436-444.
[20] Scruggs, P.W., Beveridge, S.K. and Watson, D.L. (2003) Increasing Children’s School Time Physical Activity Using Structured Fitness Breaks. Pediatric Exercise Science, 15, 156-169.
[21] Connolly, P. and McKenzie, T.L. (1995) Effects of a Games Intervention on the Physical Activity Levels of Children at Recess. Research Quarterly for Exercise Sport, 66, 60-65.
[22] Dishman, R.K., Motl, R.W., Saunders, R., Felton, G., Ward, D.S., Dowda, M., et al. (2005) Enjoyment Mediates Effects of a School-Based Physical-Activity Intervention. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37, 478-487.
[23] Macphail, A., Gorley, T. and Kirk, D. (2003) Young People’s Socialization into Sport: A Case Study of an Athletics Club. Sport, Education and Society, 8, 251-267.
[24] Alberga, A.S., Sigal, R.J., Goldfield, G., Prud’Homme, D. and Kenny, G.P. (2012) Overweight and Obese Teenagers: Why Is Adolescence a Critical Period? Pediatric Obesity, 7, 261-273
[25] Wardle, J., Broderson, N.H., Cole, T.J., Jarvis, M.J. and Boniface, D.R. (2006) Development of Adiposity in Adolescence: Five Year Longitudinal Study of an Ethnically and Socioeconomically Diverse Sample of Young People in Britain. BMJ, 332, 1130-1135.
[26] Hart, T.L., Brusseau, T.A., Kulinna, P.H., McClain, J.J. and Tudor-Locke, C. (2011) Evaluation of Low-Cost, Objective Instruments for Assessing Physical Activity in 10 - 11-Year-Old Children. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 600-609.
[27] McClain, J.J., Sisson, S.B., Washington, T.L., Craig, C.L. and Tudor-Locke, C. (2007) Comparison of Kenz Lifecorder EX and ActiGraph Accelerometers in 10-yr-Old Children. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39, 630-638.
[28] Kendzierski, D. and DeCarlo, K. (1991) Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale: Two Validation Studies. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 13, 50-64.
[29] Motl, R.W., Dishman, R.K., Saunders, R., Dowda, M., Felton, G. and Pate, R.R. (2001) Measuring Enjoyment of Physical Activity in Adolescent Girls. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 21, 110-117.
[30] Prewitt, S.L., Hannon, J.C. and Brusseau, T.A. (2013) Children and Pedometers: A Study in Reactivity and Knowledge. International Journal of Exercise Science, 6, 230-235.
[31] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2000) Promoting Better Health for Young People through Physical Activity and Sports.
[32] Mota, J., Silva, P., Santos, M.P., Ribeiro, J.C., Oliveira, J. and Duarte, J.A. (2005) Physical Activity and School Recess Time: Differences between the Sexes and the Relationship between Children’s Playground Physical Activity and Habitual Physical Activity. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 269-275.
[33] Beighle, A., Morgan, C.F., Masurier, G.L. and Pangrazi, R.P. (2006) Children’s Physical Activity during Recess and Outside of School. Journal of School Health, 76, 516-520.
[34] Stratton, G. and Leanord, J. (2002) The Effects of Playground Markings on the Energy Expenditure of 5- to 7-Year-Old School Children. Pediatric Exercise Science, 14, 170-180.

Copyright © 2021 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.