Overview

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition recommend that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as:1

  • Heart disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Obesity.

Consequences of Physical Inactivity

Physical inactivity can

  • Lead to energy imbalance (e.g., expend less energy through physical activity than consumed through diet) and can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese.14
  • Increase the risk of factors for cardiovascular disease, including hyperlipidemia (e.g., high cholesterol and triglyceride levels), high blood pressure, obesity, and insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.1,5,6
  • Increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.1,7
  • Increase the risk for developing breast, colon, endometrial, and lung cancers.1
  • Lead to low bone density, which in turn, leads to osteoporosis.1

Physical Activity Behaviors of Young People

  • Less than one-quarter (24%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. 8
  • In 2017, only 26.1% of high school students participate in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on all 7 days of the previous week.9
  • In 2017, 51.1% of high school students participated in muscle strengthening exercises (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting) on 3 or more days during the previous week.9
  • In 2017, 51.7% of high school students attended physical education classes in an average week, and only 29.9% of high school students attended physical education classes daily.

Recommendations for Physical Activity

    • Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
    • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.

These guidelines state that children and adolescents be provided opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.3

The national recommendation for schools is to have a comprehensive approach for addressing physical education and physical activity in schools.10–12 This approach is called Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs.13

 

Physical Activity and Academic Achievement

  • Students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior).14, 15
  • Higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance (e.g., concentration, memory) among students.14, 15