Getting in the zone: How to encourage physical activity during recess



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Recess: For most young students, it's the best period of the day. But just because we envision kids being kids in playgrounds, doesn't necessarily mean they are getting enough physical activity. In fact, recess can still be as sedentary as sitting in the classroom learning about math, history and sentence diagramming.

Can schools do anything to encourage more physical activity during recess? Researchers from the University of Missouri think so. They have found that zones set up so children can play specific games can improve their chances of engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of "play per day" — an effort endorsed by many health organizations as well as the National Football League.

"Research has proven that active children are healthy children," said Jill Barnas, a doctoral student in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at MU. "Moreover, past research has proven that activity helps academic performance. By reworking traditional recess games to be more vigorous, children are able to increase their physical activity in a really easy way, improving their health and doing better in school."


Now entering the Play Zone

Zoning a playground involves dividing the existing recess area into separate "zones." Each zone has a specific activity associated with it, and traditional recess games such as basketball and kickball are reworked to maximize physical activity. Kickball, for instance can be reworked to "hustle kickball," so that children kick and run in rapid fire, rather than wait in line to kick.

To test their theories, the researchers put playground zones in place and tracked the physical activity of participants through the use of accelerometers, similar to a Fitbit. They then compared the results with the physical activity of participants in a traditional playground without the zones. Researchers found a significant increase in physical activity among zoned playground participants.

"Playground zoning is one way schools can be proactive in their students' health and wellness," said Stephen Ball, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at MU. "Recess is the best way for young children to be active, and through playground zoning, schools can ensure that children are achieving maximum benefits during their recess period."


The study, co-authored by Barnas and titled, "In the Zone: An Investigation into Physical Activity during Recess on Traditional Versus Zoned Playgrounds," with the supervision of Ball, was accepted for publication in The Physical Educator