Teens need to get a move on it: Only one in four adolescents ages 12-15 are physically active for at least 60 minutes daily, new statistics show.
The government's physical-activity guidelines recommend that children and adolescents do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous aerobic physical activity every day.
"We can aim to do better than 25%," says the study's lead author, Tala Fakhouri, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These statistics are important because research shows that physical-activity behaviors in childhood often continue into adulthood, Fakhouri says.
Research consistently shows that physical activity declines as kids get older, she says. Another study by Fakhouri and her colleagues found that 70% of kids ages 6 to 11 meet the national physical-activity guidelines.
This drop comes at a time in kids' lives when they are going through a lot of physical and emotional changes, along with increasing social distractions and academic pressures, says Michael Bergeron, executive director of the National Youth Sports Health & Safety Institute, a partnership between Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the American College of Sports Medicine.
With sports, adolescents often have to choose between playing basketball and going to a party, between playing tennis and studying for a test. "We have to give the kids credit that there's a lot going on at this age."
Plus, it's a differentiating time for sports, as kids are maturing and their athletic abilities are developing at different rates, he says. "Some kids don't make the school or travel teams in sports they have played for years. That perception of being left behind may prompt a number of kids to step away from a sport. The lack of quality PE in high school and earlier grades, along with less of an emphasis on and limited time and places for safe, free play, further limits opportunities for our youth to experience and learn to enjoy sports and physical activity."
But kids need to be active. Studies show that regular exercise promotes overall physical health in children, increasing their lean muscle mass and strengthening their bones, Fakhouri says. It also boosts their self-esteem and capacity for learning. Some studies have shown that physical activity helps teenagers deal with stress, she says.
In the latest study, boys (27%) were slightly more likely than girls (22.5%) to do moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes daily, but the difference wasn't significant, she says. Other studies consistently show boys are more physically active, Fakhouri says.
Playing basketball is the most popular physical activity among active boys, followed by running, playing football, bike riding and walking. Running is the most popular activity for active girls, followed by walking, playing basketball, dancing and bike riding.
The data are based on questionnaires answered by 800 youth who participated in two government surveys in 2012. The adolescents were asked to report the number of days they engaged in 60 minutes of physical activity that increased their heart rate and made them breathe hard some of the time. This included PE class, organized sports and physical activity they did on their own time. Because the youth self-reported their own exercise, the results may slightly overestimate physical activity for this age group, Fakhouri says.
• 60% of boys and 49% of girls were physically active for at least 60 minutes five days or more each week.
• 8% did not engage in physical activity for 60 minutes on any day of the week.
• Normal-weight and overweight boys were more likely to be physically active for at least 60 minutes daily than obese boys. Normal-weight girls were slightly more likely to physically active daily than overweight or obese girls,but the difference wasn't significant.
Bergeron's advice to parents: Expose your kids to a lot of different sports and healthy physical activities, so they learn a variety of foundational skills and pursue and enjoy many different athletic interests. "Kids like to have fun. They like to participate. A diversified athletic experience early on will give kids the tools and capacity to be functionally and regularly active in a variety of ways, with great dividends for the rest of their lives."
Felicia Stoler, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist in Holmdel, N.J., agrees. She says parents should lead by example and make physical activity a family affair. Go hiking or biking together at state or local parks; jump-rope together; shoot hoops; take a hip-hop class; go to an indoor rock-climbing center; take martial -rts classes; join an inexpensive gym; take active family vacations that include hiking and biking.
SOME IDEAS FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES FOR YOUTH
• Brisk walking
• Active games such as playing tag, running, chasing
• Sports such as basketball, soccer, ice or field hockey, tennis, swimming
• Jumping rope
• Martial arts such as karate
• Cross-country skiing
• Games such as tug of war
• Modified push-ups (with knees on the floor)
• Resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands
• Rope or tree climbing
• Sit-ups (curl-ups or crunches)
• Swinging on playground equipment/bars
• Games such as hopscotch
• Hopping, skipping, jumping
• Jumping rope
• Sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and tennis
Source: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans