Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

Kids' Physical Activity Drops by Age 15

At Age 9, Children Get Enough Exercise, but Decline Sets in During Teen Years
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 15, 2008 -- Kids get sluggish by age 15, with their physical activity dipping well below the recommended 60 minutes a day for good health, according to a new study.

Researchers tracked children beginning at age 9 and then again at ages 11, 12, and 15. At age 9, the kids were doing well, getting in three hours a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, well above the 60-minute minimum suggested by most experts.

By age 15, they fell far below the recommendation, getting only 49 minutes on average on weekdays.

"We basically knew that kids were not as active as they used to be," says researcher Philip R. Nader, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla. "But I think the thing that surprises you was the degree and the speed at which physical activity declined."

Nader and his colleagues collected physical activity data on more than 1,000 children who participated in the long-running National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The children wore accelerometers, devices attached to the belt that can record movement minute by minute, for one week at each of four recording periods -- at age 9, in 2000, and at ages 11 and 12, and again at age 15, in 2006.

"This study was started many years ago [in 1991] to follow kids' development over time," Nader tells WebMD. Besides physical activity, it looked at a host of other topics, such as the influence of nonmaternal care as more mothers returned to the work force.

Declining Physical Activity

At age 9, the kids were doing well. But by age 15, the teens only got 49 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per weekday and just 35 minutes on Saturday and Sunday on average.

Although more than 90% of the kids met the recommended level of 60 minutes at age 9 and 11, by age 15 only 31% did on weekdays and only 17% on weekends. At the age 15 data collection point, more than half, or 604, had valid data from the accelerometer.

When did the decline begin? Girls fell below the recommended 60 minutes per day by about age 13.1 for weekday activity and boys, at age 14.7.

The kids didn't wear the devices when they were playing contact sports or swimming, Nader says, so the activity might have been underestimated. But even so, this isn't likely to account for the dramatic decrease in overall activity, the researchers write.

For kids, Nader says, brisk walking would be considered moderate activity, with the exact speed depending on their age. Playing tag and jump rope are other examples of moderate activity. Biking on a level surface would be moderate, while biking on hills would be considered vigorous, he says.

The study is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
 
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool