New evidence on kids and exercise

We’ve all heard the reports that children today spend too much time in front of TVs and computers, and therefore are less physically fit compared to children in decades past. But what does the evidence say on the matter?

A new systematic review presented last month at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association offers an interesting new analysis on the topic. For the review, Australian researchers analyzed 50 studies conducted between 1964 and 2010 that measured the running fitness of 25 million kids ages 9 to 17. The studies included children living in 28 countries.

Researchers compared cardiovascular endurance of the children by measuring how long they could run in a given time period, or how far it took them to run a specific distance (ranging from a half mile to two miles.)

Their analysis showed a significant decline in the cardiovascular endurance of children over the past 46 years.  In the United States, kids’ cardiovascular endurance fell an average 6 percent per decade between 1970 and 2000. In a one-mile run, children measured in current times were about a minute and a half slower than their peers 30 years ago.

The study found that the decline was similar among boys and girls, younger and older kids, and across different regions.

Increased weight explains 30 to 70 percent of the declines in children’s aerobic fitness, the study’s lead author Grant Tomkinson told NPR for a story last month. Lower levels of physical activity account for the rest, he said.

I’d like to say that I’m surprised by the news, but unfortunately I’m not. As a mother of three young children, I can confirm there are simply more sedentary activities available to kids today. Even though my family is fairly active, my children ask to play on the computer, watch DVDs, and use our iPod on a regular basis – all technologies that weren’t available to children 30 years ago.

For me, the take-home message is that it’s my responsibility to limit sedentary activities and make sure my kids get plenty of exercise.  Even though the TV has a strong draw at home, I always find that once we’re up and moving, everyone enjoys being more physical activity – myself included.

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