Young kids are naturally compelled to be active — they run, jump, tumble, and climb their way through the day without even realizing they're wracking up countless hours of healthy exercise.
But as kids get older their social and school calendars usually become busier. Plus, they're often increasingly more interested in a veritable buffet of technologies — social networking sites, video games, wireless texting, instant messaging, TV, DVDs — that often keep them plopped down in one very sedentary spot.
So, it's no surprise that kids' fitness time starts to plummet in adolescence. But a new study reveals just how drastically different activity levels among school-aged kids vs. teens really are.
From 2000-2006, researchers recorded the movements of more than 1,000 kids using a special device (called an accelerometer) attached to their belts for one week a year (at ages 9, 11, 12, and 15).
Turns out, not even a third of 15-year-olds are getting the recommended bare minimum amount of physical activity during the week (at least an hour of "moderate-to vigorous" exercise per day). And a mere 17% got that much on weekends.
But just 6 years younger, at age 9, kids were active for about 3 hours a day during both the week and weekends. And at age 11 almost all of the kids were meeting the suggested activity levels just fine.
So, when did their habits start changing? At about age 13, girls generally stopped getting enough exercise during the week, whereas boys stayed active for a little longer — until just before 15. But weekend exercise went downhill even sooner for both sexes — about 121/2 for girls and roughly 131/2 for boys.
What This Means to You
As with most things health-related, kids usually can't make the connection between how what they do now can have a huge effect on their health later. They tend to live in the here and now, not in the "what will be." So, they often don't grasp that too little exercise during their childhood or teen years can mean not just putting on a few too many pounds today, but also becoming at risk for obesity, diabetes, and other serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease and stroke down the road.
But getting older kids and teens, who are often preoccupied with other pursuits, moving can be tough. So, let them feel like they have some control over their own physical activity, instead of it feeling like something dreadful they're being forced to do. Involve them in picking out gear — be it equipment they can use or cool workout duds they can wear.
And let them choose how they want to be active. Emphasize that it's not what they do — just that they need to do something physically active on a regular basis, preferably most days of the week.
Especially on the weekends and during school breaks, when their social calendars and requests to relax more may prevail, try to get them to squeeze some physical activities into their schedule.
On top of conventional sports and pumping iron in the gym suggest alternative, less structured activities like:
- outdoor activities (hiking, road or mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, Ultimate Frisbee, skiing, snowboarding)
- classes (yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, fencing, gymnastics, martial arts like T'ai chi, dance)
- water sports and activities (swimming, surfing, wakeboarding, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, sailing, water skiing, windsurfing)
- "extreme" sports (skateboarding, inline skating, BMX biking)
Find out if your local gym or YMCA offers teen memberships, which may make older kids feel more like they have ownership of their membership and when and how they opt to work out.
If your kids aren't getting enough exercise because they're so attached to their technologies, as many preteens and teens are, encourage them to use some of their gadgets to make exercise more enjoyable:
- Buy some digital tunes for their MP3 players for their walking, running, or working out pleasure.
- Pick up video games that require simulating activities like dancing or tennis.
- Turn them on to TV and DVD workouts they can do in the privacy of their own room. Find some that incorporate kids their own age, too.
Or, have your kids earn their cell phone, TV, computer, or video game privileges with every hour they spend exercising. And make sure to put the kibosh on too much screen time — no more than 2 hours of quality content per day.
But if your kids aren't taking to the thought of moving more than their thumbs for texting or gaming, you might need to take the bull by the horns and organize some regular family fitness fun time. Sure, they may resist and resent it at first. But, chances are, they'll probably eventually learn to enjoy — and maybe even look forward to that together time — even if they may never admit it.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Source: "Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity From Ages 9 to 15 Years," Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), July 16, 2008.