Physical activity recommendations for children

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Physical activity recommendations in early childhood should be a focus of future cardiovascular disease prevention efforts, according to a study of 3,000 children age 2-9 years from eight European countries.

The age and sex of the children are important factors in determining the right physical activity requirements. Boys age six years or younger need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, whereas boys age 6-9 years need at least 80 minutes. Girls in either age group need approximately 15 minutes less. Recommendations should also include 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity per day in all children.

Clinicians should avoid using generalized physical activity guidelines and evaluate children at risk of cardiovascular disease on a case-by-case basis, the researchers said.

1. Jiménez-Pavón D, Konstabel K, Bergman P, et al. Physical activity and clustered cardiovascular disease risk factors in young children: a cross-sectional study (the IDEFICS study). BMC Medicine 2013; 11: 172. (open access)
2. McMurray RG. Insights into physical activity and cardiovascular disease risk in young children: IDEFICS study. BMC Medicine 2013; 11: 173. (open access)

Leisure time exercise lengthens life expectancy, study finds

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Adults who participate in leisure time physical activity, even below recommended levels, are likely to reduce their risk of death, according to a review study that included 650,000 people over age 40 years.

Life expectancy could be increased by as much as 4.5 years, regardless of weight. Even obese people who were very active were found to live an average of 3.1 more years than inactive people of normal weight.

The results may help convince currently inactive people that a modest physical activity program may have health benefits, even if it does not result in weight loss, the study concludes.

1. Moore SC, Patel AV, Matthews CE, et al. Leisure time physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity and mortality: a large pooled cohort analysis. PLoS Medicine 2011; 9(11): e1001335. (open access)

Family, school support key in teen physical activity

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Teens are less likely to engage in physical activity if they lack support and encouragement from family, school, and the community, according to a British study of adolescents age 16-18 years of Bangladeshi, Somali or Welsh descent.

Girls exercise less than boys because female physical activity is viewed as unimportant. Boys find barriers through lack of access to exercise resources, parental fear of injury and the belief that teens should be studying or working rather than playing. Although both boys and girls would like to increase their exercise frequency, girls tend to have a negative view of physical activity, while boys think positively about it.

“Interventions should focus on changing the attitudes of parents, communities and society toward activity,” the study concluded.

1. Brophy S, Crowley A, Mistry R. Recommendations to improve physical activity among teenagers: A qualitative study with ethnic minority and European teenagers. BMC Public Health 2011; 11: 412. (open access)

Physical inactivity, depression and heart disease-related death in older adults

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Research has indicated that depressed older individuals are at higher risk of dying than their counterparts without depression. In addition, physical inactivity accounted for a significant proportion (25 percent) of the risk of cardiovascular death due to depression in adults age 65 years and older, according to a 5,900-person U.S. study.

“These data suggest that preventive health and wellness programs in older adults, particularly those with depression, should focus on encouraging enrollment and continued participation in exercise programs,” the study concluded.

The study also added that positive financial incentives, health insurance rebates, transportation vouchers or health club memberships might enhance participation of older adults with depression in these programs and thereby reduce healthcare utilization and the risk of cardiovascular events.

1. Win S, Parakh K, Eze-Nliam CM, et al. Depressive symptoms, physical inactivity and risk of cardiovascular mortality in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Heart 2011; 97: 500-505. (open access)

Parenthood and physical activity

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Becoming a parent is a life-changing event that affects participation in physical activity. By offering family-oriented physical activity choices that involve both parents and children, midwives and health promoters can encourage parents to be active while their children are involved in their own activities, a Swedish study finds.

More than 75 percent of women and 65 percent of men in the study had participated in outdoor recreational physical activity, varying from several times per month to every day, over a 12-month period prior to one month before pregnancy. The study also found that dog owners spend more time in mild to moderate physical activity compared to non-dog owners.

“The promotion of outdoor recreational [physical activity], which also has restorative effects on well-being, needs to focus on activities which are attractive and affordable for the majority of both women and men,” the study concluded.

1. Sjögren K, Hansson EE, Stjernberg L. Parenthood and factors that influence outdoor recreational physical activity from a gender perspective. BMC Public Health 2011; 11: 93. (open access)

Walking may help ward off diabetes

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Walking will lower your risk of diabetes

Taking more steps every day will not only ward off obesity but will also reduce the risk of diabetes, finds a study published on While several studies have shown that physical activity reduces body mass index and insulin resistance—an early stage in the development of diabetes—this is the first study to estimate the effects of long-term changes in daily step count on insulin sensitivity.
A popular guideline is to do 10,000 steps every day, though a more recent recommendation is 3,000 steps, five days a week.

The study researchers estimate that, in their setting, a sedentary person who takes a very low number of daily steps but who was able to change behavior over five years to meet the popular 10,000 daily step guideline would have a threefold improvement in insulin sensitivity compared with a similar person who increased his or her steps to meet the more recent recommendation of 3,000 steps for five days a week.

“These findings, confirming an independent beneficial role of higher daily step count on body mass index, waist to hip ratio, and insulin sensitivity, provide further support to promote higher physical activity levels among middle aged adults,” the study concluded.

1. Dwyer T, Ponsonby A-L, Ukoumunne OC, et al. Association of change in daily step count over five years with insulin sensitivity and adiposity: population based cohort study. BMJ 2011; 342: c7249. (open access)

School-related sedentary activities contribute to physical inactivity among teens

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Walking to school encourages kids to be more active.

Much attention has been paid to the amount of time teenagers spend watching TV, using the computer or playing video games, but a new Australian study shows that 60 percent of teens’ physical inactivity time was spent doing other sedentary activities.

School activities contributed to more than 40 percent of non-screen sedentary time, followed by socializing, eating and passive transport such as riding in a car or bus.

Physical inactivity contributes largely to the obesity epidemic affecting children and teens around the world. Researchers recommend encouraging kids to spend more time exercising and being more active, instead of watching TV and playing video games. They also recommend schools provide active lesson breaks in the classroom and also provide a safe environment for kids to walk or ride their bikes to school.

1. Olds TS, Maher CA, Ridley K, Kittel DM. Descriptive epidemiology of screen and non-screen sedentary time in adolescents: a cross sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010; 7: 92. (open access)

Supportive parents increase children’s physical activity

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Children are more likely to be physically active if they have parents who provide a high level of support and encouragement for their child to be active and also place few restrictions or demands on their children’s time. The finding is from a study conducted among rural familes from four U.S. states (California, Mississippi, South Carolina and Kentucky).

Physical activity provides important health benefits for children including increased physical fitness, reduced body fatness, favorable cardiovascular risk profiles, enhanced bone health, and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Despite the known benefits, few U.S. children meet the current recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity per day, and unless they participate in a structured sport children are likely to become more sedentary as they age.

Given that rural children living in under-resourced communities have limited access to physical activity opportunities, it is important for parents to encourage their children to be more active, the study said.

1. Hennessy E, Hughes SO, Goldberg JP, et al. Parent-child interactions and objectively measured child physical activity: a cross-sectional study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010; 7: 71. (0pen access)