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Kids Get More Exercise Than Adults Realize

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To arrive at their findings, researchers reviewed 26 studies of nearly 2,000 kids age 3 to 17. These studies measured changes in heart rate to determine the amount of daily physical activity.

That's not to say that all kids are active, he says.

"Kids are individuals, and there are kids out there sitting in front of the television or computer and playing video games and they need to be targeted," Roemmich says.

"As physical activity accumulates, so do health benefits," he says, adding that an unhealthy lifestyle in childhood has been shown to lead to heart disease, adult diabetes, and the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis later in life.

Others who read the study and commented about it for WebMD repeat the same message. "I am glad to hear that children are more active than what we gave them credit for [but] we have had about a 50% increase in obesity in the last 15 years, so we do have a problem," says Thomas J. Martin, MD, a team physician at Penn State University in State College, Penn. and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Martin says that research has not yet pinpointed what the ideal amount of physical activity is for a child. But the evidence to date shows that physical activity in adults does have important health benefits, so encouraging physical activity in children is important, he says.

He advises kids walk to school where it's possible, and during breaks and recess, play games that get the heart working. "The key is to increase their activity and their fun so it will become a lifelong habit."

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