Meaningful Play? Recess memories associated with meaning & purpose later in adulthood

What is the long-term impact of recess?

When it comes to Physical Education (PE), previous research found negative PE experiences predicted adults’ health habits (Cardinal et al., 2013; Ladwig et al., 2018). In other words, negative PE experiences as a child predicted less physical activity as an adult.

Purpose in life may be both a cause and effect of adults’ overall health, including how much physical activity they do.

So our question was: Do recess experiences predict later social and emotional well-being?

This study explored the relationships between past memories of recess, physical activity, and social-emotional well-being.

514 adults in the USA between the ages of 19 and 79 participated in our study.

Participants completed surveys online. These surveys measured the following:

  1. recess enjoyment
  2. how much they physical activity they do
  3. how much they enjoy physical activity
  4. how satisfied they are with their social roles
  5. their meaning and purpose in life

Using a statistical analysis, specifically structural equation modeling, the data from these surveys was analyzed.

The analysis showed the following:

  • Memories of recess enjoyment were associated with meaning and purpose as an adult
  • Memories of recess enjoyment were associated with how much this person enjoy physical activity as an adult
  • Physical activity enjoyment as an adult was also associated with meaning and purpose in life
  • Physical activity enjoyment as an adult was also associated and social role satisfaction

So what does this all mean?

Essentially, this means that one’s childhood recess experiences can affect their later markers of health. And not just physical health. But also that persons’s social and emotional health.

This was the first study to examine the long-term effects of recess.

What should educators do about recess?

Educators and policy makers need ensure everyone has equitable access to high-quality recess.

For more information, check out the published manuscript here in the Psychology of Sport & Exercise. DOI: