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Only one in four get 60 minutes of activity each day, 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 physical-activity behaviors in childhood often continue into adulthood, Fakhouri says.
Research 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.
Teens often have to choose between playing basketball and going to a party, between playing tennis and studying for a test, he says. "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, Bergeron says. "Some kids don't make the school or travel teams in sports they have played for years. ... 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."
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 show that physical activity helps teenagers deal with stress, she says.