In an earlier column I described the national physical activity guidelines for youth. In brief, the guidelines recommend 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children and teens. The guidelines also indicated that youth should not be inactive for long periods of time during their waking hours (more than two hours at a time).
If youth are to be successful in meeting the guidelines variety and enjoyment are critical. The Physical Activity Pyramid provides a good model for helping children and youth select from a variety of activities. Like adults, youth do not all like the same activities. So trying a wide variety of activities increases the chances that youth will find activities that they enjoy. Enjoyment has been shown to be one of the most important factors in exercise adherence.
Ideally youth will avoid inactivity (too much television and computer games) and select from each of the five varieties of activity in the Physical Activity Pyramid.
Moderate activities (step one) include any activity equal in intensity to brisk walking. Youth are encouraged to begin early in life to walk to school when possible, to do yard work, to do other moderate tasks around home, as well as to play outdoor games. Some sports such as golf and fishing are considered to be moderate activities. Moderate activities are the most popular of all adult activities, and developing the habit of performing these activities increases the prospect that youth will be active as adults. Moderate activities provide reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and are very helpful in healthy weight maintenance.
Youth should do vigorous physical activity at least three days a week. Choices include vigorous aerobics at step two and vigorous sports and recreation at step three. Vigorous activities elevate the heart rate and cause rapid breathing. Examples of vigorous aerobics are jogging, aerobic dance, hip-hop and bike riding. Vigorous sport examples are soccer, basketball and tennis. Examples of vigorous recreation are hiking and backpacking. Vigorous activities build cardiovascular fitness and provide additional health benefits to those provided by moderate activity. Youth often enjoy team sports and for this reason they are a good way to involve youth in regular activity. Specialization in one sport that keeps a youth active and helps promote skill excellence. This is good for the short-term. However, specialization can detract from learning activities that can be used for a lifetime, so trying many activities is encouraged, even for good athletes. Involvement in lifetime sports and activities (those that are often done as adults) is encouraged because many fewer adults perform team sports than lifetime activities such as tennis, hiking, aerobic dance and jogging.
National guidelines also recommend at least three days of muscle fitness activities each week. For teens, age-appropriate resistance training with good supervision is a good choice.
All youth can benefit from muscle fitness activities such as calisthenics, elastic band exercises and wall climbing. Care should be taken not to make muscle fitness activities seem like work since enjoyment is a key to adherence over time. This type of exercise helps build the bones and the muscles, is effective in healthy weight management, promotes good posture and back health, and provides health benefits similar to activities at steps one through three of the pyramid.
Flexibility exercise is important for back health, and prevention of injury. It is also important to success in virtually all sports. Regular flexibility exercises and activities such as yoga should be part of the weekly activities of youth. There is some debate about the need to perform flexibility exercises as a warm-up for sports, but there is no debate about the need for regular stretching for good health. Stretching exercises to build flexibility are best after other forms of exercise when the muscles are warm.
All activities in the pyramid expend calories and help in healthy weight maintenance. At the right of the steps in the pyramid are color bars that represent the various food groups. These color bars are meant to show that healthy eating is necessary to effective performance in physical activity and to energy balance. Calories in food must be balanced by calories expended in exercise.
Not all youth like all activities. But all can find some activity that is enjoyable. The Physical Activity Pyramid provides a good model for classifying activities and helping youth to be active. Research shows that parents play a significant role in promoting youth activity. Youth are more likely to do activity and enjoy it if their parents are active, if parents help them learn activities, and especially if parents do activity with them. Each of the activities in the pyramid will be discussed individually in later columns.
• 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, go to www.health.gov/paguidelines.