Steve Ball, University of Missouri – More Activity during Recess

Kids love recess.

Steve Ball, professor of nutrition & exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, describe how to ensure kids use recess to get their allotted amount of daily exercise.

Dr. Steve Ball has devoted his education and career to study the prevention and treatment of obesity. His “MyActivity Pyramid for Kids” program, which helps children develop exercise habits, is currently used in 46 states.

Ball also created a program called “Jump Into Action” that introduces fun ways of working physical activity into a regular school day. “The good news is that physical activity need not be strenuous to get health benefits,” says Ball. “Children need to accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Activity does not all have to be done at one time; short 10-minute bursts will do.”

Ball has been teaching at MU since 2002, and his Introduction to Exercise and Fitness course enrolls nearly 750 students per year. In 2012, Ball was awarded a Kemper Fellowship recognizing outstanding teachers at Mizzou.

When he’s not in the classroom, Ball can be found around the state leading a class of fourth-graders on the playground, working with the elderly at a senior center, or at an elementary school training teachers.

Ball has been published in numerous journals and has gained worldwide recognition for many of his fitness programs.

Dr. Steve Ball is a state extension specialist and associate professor for the interdisciplinary Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology which spans the School of Medicine and the Colleges of Human Environmental Sciences and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri.

More Activity during Recess


Most grade school students are likely to claim recess as their favorite period of the day; however, in many cases recess still can be sedentary with students not engaging in enough physical activity. We found that zones with specific games can improve physical activity, improving a child’s chance of engaging in the recommended 60 minutes of “play per day.” We found that average physical activity increased by 10 percent and children averaged 175 more steps on a zoned playground compared to a traditional playground.

Research has proven that active children are healthy children. 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 while they do better in school.

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,” where children playing the game kick and run in rapid fire, rather than waiting in line to kick.

Once the playground zones were put in place, our team tracked the physical activity of participants through the use of accelerometers, similar to a Fitbit and compared the physical activity of participants using a traditional playground without the zones. We 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. 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.

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