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Physical Activity Facts

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Overview

Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence is important for promoting lifelong health and well-being and preventing various health conditions.1–2 The 2008 US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents  aged 6 to 17 years should have 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.3 Unfortunately, many children and adolescents do not meet the recommendations set forth in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans [PDF-8.35MB] .4


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:2

  • 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.2,5
  • Increase the risk of factors that cause cardiovascular disease, including hyperlipidemia (e.g., high cholesterol and triglyceride levels), high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.2,6,7
  • Increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.2,8
  • Increase the risk for developing breast, colon, endometrial, and lung cancers.2
  • Lead to low bone density, which in turn, leads to osteoporosis.2

Physical Activity Behaviors of Young People

  • Only 21.6% of 6 to 19-year-old children and adolescents in the United States attained 60 or more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on at least 5 days per week.4
  • Only 27.1% of high school students participate in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on all 7 days of the week.9
  • In 2015, 53.4% of high school students participated in muscle strengthening exercises (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting) on 3 or more days during the week.9
  • In 2015, 51.6% of high school students attended physical education classes in an average week, and only 29.8% of high school students attended physical education classes daily.9

Recommendations for Physical Activity

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services provides guidance on healthy physical activity habits. The national recommendation is that children and adolescents aged 6 to 17 years should have 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day.3 This includes
    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.

These guidelines also encourage children and adolescents to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.3


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

References

  1. Janssen I, Leblanc AG. Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA), 2010;7:40.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2008
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
  4. National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. 2016 US report card on physical activity for children and youth. Columbia, SC; 2016.
  5. Institute of Medicine. Preventing childhood obesity: health in the balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2005.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Laura K, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2015. MMWR. 2016;65(6):1–174.
  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.

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