Kids Are Physically Active Just 23 Minutes a Day at School, Study Shows

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A study published in Pediatrics used GPS devices to track where and when teenagers were getting physical exercise, and the results showed that they were physically active for just 23 minutes a day while they were at school. For the entire day, the average amount of physical exercise amounted to 39.4 minutes.

Roni Caryn Rabin reports for The New York Times  that Jordan A. Carlson, a research assistant professor at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and one of the authors of the study, says teens are one of the toughest group to get active. In fact, some estimates say fewer than one in 10 adolescents get the 60 minutes of activity a day that the CDC recommends.

The study set out to find where teens were getting most of their exercise, whether it be at school, home, or elsewhere. The goal was to discover ways to maximize activity opportunities and make teens’ environments more exercise-friendly.

The scientists used information from the Teen Environment and Neighborhood study, which looked at 928 adolescents between 12 and 16 who lived in both urban and suburban neighborhoods in Baltimore, the District of Columbia/Maryland area, and Seattle between the years of 2009 and 2011. The subjects were split between girls and boys and just below one-third were non-white.

The adolescents were to wear an accelerometer and a GPS tracker around their waists each day. Both tools were used to ensure accuracy. To have their data included in the study, the participants had to wear the belt for one whole school day and one weekend. The current research included data from 549 subjects for a mean number of seven days.

The team was surprised to find that although the teens spent 42% of their time at school and got approximately half their daily activity there, the students only spent 4.8% of their time at school being physically active. They were more likely to be active in their neighborhoods or near their school. A meager amount of activity took place in their homes.

In most cases, boys were more active than girls. The researchers feel that teens would be more active if they had more opportunities for physical activity at school. They also suggested having less time at home indoors and more time in the home and school neighborhood.

Carlson said that activity helps prevent obesity and chronic diseases and has benefits to bone health, brain development, academic achievement, on-task behavior, and mental health. He also noted that if a child walks to school, it adds 15 to 20 minutes of overall activity to their days. A decade ago, 40% of children walked to school. Today the number of children who walk to school is 14%.

Even with the declining budgets, schools must not neglect the importance of physical education, said Dr. Jennifer Beck, associate director of sports medicine at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, writes Tara Haelle for WebMD.

CNN’s Kelly Wallace reported on a couple from San Rafael, California with two daughters ages 7 and 10 and a company that educates corporations, athletes, and professional teams about movement, mechanics, and the prevention of injuries. When they attended their daughter’s school for a sack race, they saw that many kids lacked the hip mobility to get into the bag, let alone jump in it.

They worked to get 25 standing desks for their daughter’s fourth-grade classroom. They are now raising $150,000 so all 450 students in the school will be standing during the day.

Other benefits that result from the use of standing desks in the classroom include more focus for students, fidget bars on some desks that kids can swing on without bothering anyone near them, greater “on-task” engagement, improved behavior, the burning of 15% to 25% more calories in addition to decreased sitting time.