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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2016 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2016

Space, body, time and relationship experiences of recess physical activity: a qualitative case study among the least physical active schoolchildren

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2016
Charlotte Skau Pawlowski, Henriette Bondo Andersen, Tine Tjørnhøj-Thomsen, Jens Troelsen, Jasper Schipperijn
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

CSP carried out the data collection, analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. HBA objectively selected the participants. TTT, JS, HBA and JT participated in designing the study and draft the manuscript. All authors read and approve the final manuscript.



Increasing recess physical activity has been the aim of several interventions, as this setting can provide numerous physical activity opportunities. However, it is unclear if these interventions are equally effective for all children, or if they only appeal to children who are already physically active. This study was conducted to explore the least physically active children’s “lived experiences” within four existential lifeworlds linked to physical activity during recess: space, body, time, and relations.


The study builds on ethnographic fieldwork in a public school in Denmark using a combination of participatory photo interviews and participant observation. Thirty-seven grade five children (11–12 years old) were grouped in quartiles based on their objectively measured daily physical activity levels. Eight children in the lowest activity quartile (six girls) were selected to participate in the study. To avoid stigmatising and to make generalisations more reliable we further recruited eight children from the two highest activity quartiles (four girls) to participate.


An analysis of the least physically active children’s “lived experiences” of space, body, time and relations revealed several key factors influencing their recess physical activity: perceived classroom safety, indoor cosiness, lack of attractive outdoor facilities, bodily dissatisfaction, bodily complaints, tiredness, feeling bored, and peer influence.


We found that the four existential lifeworlds provided an in-depth understanding of the least physically active children’s “lived experiences” of recess physical activity. Our findings imply that specific intervention strategies might be needed to increase the least physically active children’s physical activity level. For example, rethinking the classroom as a space for physical activity, designing schoolyards with smaller secluded spaces and varied facilities, improving children’s self-esteem and body image, e.g., during physical education, and creating teacher organised play activities during recess.
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