The national physical activity guidelines for youth recommend 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children (5-12) and teens (13-18). Yet only 18.4 percent of youth get 60 minutes of activity on all seven days of the week.
Until the 1990s physical activity recommendations from the government and medical associations were primarily for adults and focused on the amount of exercise necessary to produce increases in fitness and performance rather than health. With the publication of the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health the focus shifted to "how much physical activity is enough for health?"
In 1998 the first physical activity guidelines, developed specifically for children, were published by the National Association for Sport and Physical Activity (NASPE). These guidelines were the first to recommend that children get 60 minutes of physical activity each day, twice the amount recommended for adults. The guidelines also indicated children should not be inactive for long periods of time during the waking hours (more than two hours at a time). Nevertheless, recent surveys indicate that youth are often inactive for long periods of time each day, averaging 44.5 hours each week in front of a computer, television or videogame screen. This amounts to more time in front of a screen than in any other activity except sleeping.
In 2005 NASPE revised its guidelines and in 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed comprehensive physical activity guidelines for Americans of all ages, including youth.
A summary of physical activity guidelines for youth, including updated recommendations from NASPE and CDC, is presented below.
• Perform at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
• Perform aerobic activity. Most of the 60 minutes should be from moderate (activity equal to brisk walking) or vigorous aerobic physical activity (makes the heart beat faster and makes you breathe harder); with vigorous activity performed at least three days a week.
• Perform muscle-strengthening activity. Muscle-strengthening activity should be included at least three days a week. For children formal resistance training is not recommended. For teens resistance training is appropriate when proper guidelines are followed.
• Perform bone-strengthening activity. Bone-strengthening activity should be performed at least three days a week. Weight bearing aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity fulfills this need.
• Perform a variety of activities. Participation in a variety of enjoyable activities is recommended. This includes play and games for children as well as more formal activities for older children and teens.
• Perform age appropriate activities. Activities should be appropriate for different age levels. Different activities are recommended for children (preteen) than teens. For children activities are often intermittent, short bursts of activities followed by short rest periods.
• Avoid Inactivity. Inactivity for periods of two hours or more should be avoided.
Now that the amount of activity has been established, the challenge is to implement the guidelines. A key element is finding a fun and enjoyable form of activity for each child and teen.
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles B. "Chuck" Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University, author of more than 90 books on fitness and activity, and was the first chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board. For more information on the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, visit www.health.gov/paguidelines.