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Children's Health

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Kids' Physical Activity Drops by Age 15

At Age 9, Children Get Enough Exercise, but Decline Sets in During Teen Years

Declining Physical Activity continued...

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.

Reasons for Decline in Physical Activity

"It's probably a combination of things accounting for the decline," says Nader, who points out that the study didn't go into why activity declines.

"If I was going to bet on one thing, it's the immediate environment," he says, noting that kids today don't go outside as much to play, partly because of safety concerns. "Teens today may have competing things," he says, such as computers and other technology that keeps them inactive.

But the study results should be a wake-up call to pediatricians, parents, and policy makers.

"As a pediatrician, this is upsetting,'' he says of the tendency for kids to get sluggish as they become teens. "As a physician and public health person, I would say it is alarming."

The findings of the study come as no surprise to Eve Kutchman, MEd, an exercise physiologist and coordinator for Healthy Kids, Healthy Weights, a program at University Hospitals' Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

"My general overall feeling is it's right on," she says of the study results. What sets this apart from other studies, she says, is the hard numbers retrieved by use of the accelerometers. Most other studies rely on self-reported activity, she says.

Advice for Parents

Many parents sign up their kids for organized sports and think the issue of physical activity is taken care of, Kutchman finds. Not necessarily, she tells them.

While organized sports might be a good start, or adjunct, to a physical activity program, the actual moving time may not be enough. "A game might be two hours, but their kid may have just 15 minutes of active playing time," she says.

Find an activity your kids like, she suggests, and encourage them. Better yet, do it with them, she says. "What really converts them is to find an activity they feel they are skilled in and do well at," she says. "That feeling of self-esteem and feeling OK in moving their bodies is what converts them."

Nader tells parents to take walks with their children in the evenings and to plan longer, more vigorous workouts as a family on the weekends.

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