Teens Get Less Than 30 Minutes of Daily Exercise at High School

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


If we want the next generation of adults to be healthier than the current population, we need to get today’s teenagers moving. While some get plenty of exercise participating in sports, the majority of high school students simply don’t move much during the school day or after they get home. In a new study, researchers tracked over 500 healthy teens for a week to understand where this limited activity takes place; at home, at school or elsewhere. The findings are not encouraging.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 60 minutes per day of physical activity for teens (and adults), several studies and growing obesity statistics show that not enough kids are meeting the guidelines.  

Dr. Jordan A. Carlson, a research assistant professor at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo, set out to find how teens spend their day and where they do get the most active time. Using data from the Teen Environment and Neighborhood study, he and his research team reviewed the activity of 549 students, between the ages of 12 and 16, in Baltimore and Seattle who wore an accelerometer and a GPS device to track their movement throughout the day. The accelerometer recorded movement intensity while the GPS tracked steps and distance covered.

Over the course of seven days, Carlson found that the teens were physically active less than 40 minutes per day, with only 23 minutes of that happening at school. So, even though they spend an average of 42% of their day at school, only 4.8% of that time is spent being active. Surprisingly, that scant amount of exercise made up over half of their daily total.

The study has been published in Pediatrics.

The researchers recommend school-based programs, including more organized sports activities, to counteract this sedentary lifestyle.

“Although a majority of adolescents’ physical activity occurred at school, the low proportion of active time relative to the large amount of time spent at school suggests potential for increasing school-based activity,” concluded the authors. “Increasing time spent in the neighborhood appears promising for increasing overall physical activity, because a high proportion of neighborhood time was active. Increasing youth physical activity to support metabolic health requires strategies for increasing use of physical activity–supportive locations (eg, neighborhoods) and environmental and program improvements in unsupportive locations (eg, schools, homes).”

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Jan 15 2016

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