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Daily primary school physical education: effects on physical activity during adult life


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 1999 - Volume 31 - Issue 1 - p 111-117

Daily primary school physical education: effects on physical activity during adult life. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 111-117, 1999.

Purpose: The purpose of this investigation was to study the influence of a daily primary school physical education program on physical activity (PA) level, attitudes toward physical activity, and perceptions of barriers to physical activity during adulthood.

Methods: We compared two groups: 1) an experimental group of men and women (N = 147) who had received five physical education sessions per week throughout their 6 yr of primary school education in the early 1970s; and 2) a control group, drawn from the data bank of the Québec Health Survey, and matched for age, gender, and socioeconomic profile (N = 720). Experimental and control subjects filled out an identical questionnaire about their current physical activity level, their attitudes toward PA, and their perceptions of barriers to PA. The control group was stratified to obtain the same sociodemographic profile as the experimental group.

Results: Our principal results were: 1) a frequency distribution that showed a higher rate of physical activity in experimental women than in control women; 2) similar intentions to exercise and attitudes toward exercise in the experimental and control groups, with no differences in opportunities for exercising or in the support received from their family and friends; and 3) a lower prevalence of regular smokers in experimental men than in control men. There were also some differences in the types and frequency of physical activities selected between experimental and control subjects.

Conclusion: Our results strongly suggest that daily physical education at the primary school level has had a significant long-term positive effect on the exercise habits on women, despite similar perceived barriers, attitudes, and intention to exercise in the two groups. The program has also had a significant health effect in men, substantially reducing the risk of becoming a regular smoker. Because the program was not specifically designed to promote health, we hypothesize that a health-oriented physical education program could have an even stronger effect.

Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, QUÉBEC, and University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

Submitted for publication November 1997.

Accepted for publication May 1998.

This study was supported by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (grant no. 951R110). Dr. Shephard's studies are also supported by funding from Canadian Tire Acceptance Limited. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Hughes Lavallée and André Marchand.

Address for correspondence: François Trudeau, Département des sciences de l'activité physique, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, 3351 boul. des Forges, C.P. 500, Trois-Rivières (Québec) Canada, G9A 5H7. E-mail:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.