Providing physical education classes may not be enough to encourage children to adopt healthy lifestyles—that is, if those classes do not offer quality experiences. Americans who associate physical education with negative memories are more likely to avoid health clubs as adults, according to a new study published in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
The researchers behind "'My Best Memory Is When I Was Done with It': PE Memories Are Associated with Adult Sedentary Behavior" surveyed 1,028 adults about their memories, good and bad, from physical education class. (They cited the lack of empirical data on the topic as their reasoning for conducting the original research.)
Ultimately, the researchers determined that "[c]hildhood memories of PE are associated with [physical activity] attitude, intention, and sedentary behavior in adulthood," and there exists a need "to crystallize the promotion of pleasure and enjoyment, and the establishment of an implicit association between movement and pleasure, as one of the overarching objectives of PE."
Participants who enjoyed physical education cited enjoyment of the activities in class (56 percent), experiencing feelings of physical competence (37 percent) and, interestingly, finishing or skipping class (7 percent). Those with the worst memories cited embarrassment (34 percent), lack of enjoyment (18 percent), bullying (17 percent), injury (16 percent), social-physique anxiety (14 percent) and being punished by their teacher (2 percent).
The worst memories tended to emerge between sixth grade and ninth grade, the researchers noted, while best memories peaked around ninth grade.
Enjoying physical education proved to be the most substantial indicator of present-day attitudes toward physical activity, the study says. Conversely, being chosen later or last in team sports strongly correlated to the amount of time participants spent sitting during weekdays and on the weekend.
The study states: "Recurring instances of children being made to feel embarrassed about their performance could have deleterious consequences for self-efficacy, an important predictor of both adoption and adherence to exercise and [physical activity]. ... In addition, these experiences could reduce perceptions of competence and relatedness, two of the basic psychological needs posited in self-determination theory. In turn, both competence and relatedness are instrumental for developing autonomous intrinsic motivation for [physical activity], a reliable correlate of [physical activity] participation and adherence."
In a recent survey of 30,999 Americans, a majority of those who were exposed to physical education as children reported themselves to be active adults.