Physical Activity Facts

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Overview

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition recommend that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.2

Benefits of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as:1

  • Heart disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Obesity.
Consequences of Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity can

  • Lead to energy imbalance (e.g., expend less energy through physical activity than consumed through diet) and can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese.14
  • Increase the risk of factors for cardiovascular disease, including hyperlipidemia (e.g., high cholesterol and triglyceride levels), high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.1,5,6
  • Increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.1,7
  • Increase the risk for developing breast, colon, endometrial, and lung cancers.1
  • Lead to low bone density, which in turn, leads to osteoporosis.1
Physical Activity Behaviors of Young People
  • Less than one-quarter (24%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. 8
  • In 2017, only 26.1% of high school students participate in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on all 7 days of the previous week.9
  • In 2017, 51.1% of high school students participated in muscle strengthening exercises (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting) on 3 or more days during the previous week.9
  • In 2017, 51.7% of high school students attended physical education classes in an average week, and only 29.9% of high school students attended physical education classes daily.9

Recommendations for Physical Activity
    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.

These guidelines state that children and adolescents be provided opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.3

The national recommendation for schools is to have a comprehensive approach for addressing physical education and physical activity in schools.10–12 This approach is called Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs.13

Physical Activity and Academic Achievement
  • Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior).14, 15
  • Higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance (e.g., concentration, memory) among students.14, 15

  1. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2018.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
  3. National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. The 2018 United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Washington, DC: National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, 2018.
  4. Institute of Medicine. Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2005.
  5. Loprinzi PD, Lee I, Andersen RE, Crespo CJ, Smit E. Association of concurrent healthy eating and regular physical activity with cardiovascular disease risk factors in US youth. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2015; 30(1):2–8.
  6. Cuenca-Garcia M; Ortega FB; Ruiz JR; et al. Combined influence of healthy diet and active lifestyle on cardiovascular disease risk factors in adolescents. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2014;24(3):553–562.
  7. Kriska A; Delahanty L; Edelstein S; et al. Sedentary behavior and physical activity in youth with recent onset of type 2 diabetes. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3): e850–e856.
  8. The Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative (CAHMI). 2016 National Survey of Childrens Health. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health;2016.
  9. Laura K, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2017. MMWR. 2018;67(8):1–144.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. MMWR. 2011;60(No. RR-5).
  11. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services: 2012.
  12. Institute of Medicine. Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2013.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Guide for Developing Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2013.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. Atlanta, GA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.
  15. Michael SL, Merlo C, Basch C, et al. Critical connections: health and academics. Journal of School Health. 2015;85(11):740–758.