Physical activity and health in children and adolescents

by Aaron Finch
physIcal actIvity in children

Many parents are concerned about the amount of time children spend in front of screens, and the effects this might have on their health. It’s important to remain physically active, just as it is important to get enough sleep. This blog post gives some tips on how parents can encourage children to be more physically active by using devices and games that allow for physical activity.

Physical activity has been claimed to be beneficial for many aspects of health in children and adolescents, including cognitive development, risk-taking behaviors, academic performance, self-esteem and weight control. Physical activity can help reduce the risk of various diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. Physical activity is also widely viewed as important in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Physical activity is defined as any physical movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure, is larger than necessary for performing routine daily activities, and may improve health. Explain why there is a growing concern over the physical fitness of children and adolescents. The term active is often used to describe a physically fit person, which is why there’s a concern over the increasing levels of sedentary behavior among children and adolescents.

Changes in the way that young people spend their free time may be contributing to this. The amount of time children watch television, the amount of time they spend playing video games and the number of hours spent on computers are all increasing. Such activity may decrease their opportunities for physical activity and increase their need for sleep. 

Physical activity and health in children and adolescents :

1. Physical activity in children and adolescents

Physical activity is essential for health and well-being. In children and adolescents, physical activity is an important contributor to lifelong health. As young people become more independent, it is important for them to develop healthy habits that can stay with them into adulthood.

2. Physical fitness and obesity in children and adolescents

In general, overweight adolescents are less physically fit than their peers who are leaner. These patterns are already apparent in 10-year-olds, with one third of overweight boys having low fitness levels compared with only one fifth of their non-obese peers (Manson et al., 1993). They also have a greater tendency to be obese as adults (Leitzmann et al. 2003).

3. Physical fitness, sedentary lifestyles and obesity in children and adolescents

Most experts agree that physical fitness is best determined by measuring the heart rate response to exercise. This method is practical and inexpensive. However, it has some limitations. It does not measure muscular fitness, which is a key element of fitness in children and adolescents (e.g., Canfield et al., 1993), and it cannot distinguish fat from muscle tissue. The use of this method shows that the percentage of overweight children who are fit is greater than the percentage of normal-weight children who are fit (Biro et al., 1999).

4. Physical activity and fatness in children and adolescents

The number one health risk factor for children and adolescents is being overweight or obese. As with adults, an increased level of physical activity is associated with a lower percentage of obese children (Berkey et al., 2000). The association between physical activity levels and fatness appears to be linear in the middle ages, then decreases during the late teens. 

However, even among obese children, those who are more active appear to be at smaller risk of becoming obese adults than their inactive counterparts (Leibel et al., 1994).

5. Benefits of physical activity for children and adolescents:

Swimming is a fast way to improve cardiovascular fitness and to burn calories. A regular swimming programme can help overweight or obese children lose weight and improve their overall fitness level. Swimming, however, has its limits : the health benefits of swimming are not as rapid as when running or cycling, which means that swimming needs to be sustained over time.

Running is also good for cardiovascular fitness. It improves endurance and muscular strength; it helps reduce fats in the blood; it stimulates calcium absorption; it helps maintain bone density ; it increases insulin sensitivity ; and it lowers blood pressure.

Running and cycling are the best cardiovascular exercises for children and adolescents, as they can train at high intensity without overloading their muscles. This high intensity training means that the heart and lungs function more efficiently. Running and cycling are both great for cardiovascular fitness, but running is better for muscular fitness than cycling. Pedaling a cycle does not require much leg muscle activity, because the quadriceps do most of the work. By contrast, running uses many muscles in one’s legs to stabilize .

6. Physical activity and weight control in children and adolescents

In the short term, physical activity can aid weight loss; this is because it increases energy burned. Over the long term, however, overweight children who are active tend to remain leaner than their inactive counterparts. The key is to increase one’s level of physical activity over time so that a baseline of regular physical activity levels is reached. This can help ensure a healthier body weight for life (Sallis et al., 2002).

7. Physical activity and cognitive development in children and adolescents:

The association between physical fitness and improved cognitive performance appears to exist throughout an individual’s life span . Over the years, research conducted in animals and humans has suggested that aerobic fitness enhances cognitive functioning. Scientists have also identified several other underlying mechanisms that may support their theories.

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