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Benefits & Guidelines for Routine Physical Activity

Presented by the National Physical Activity Plan

Routine physical activity, among all ages, is not just about exercising to improve your outward appearance. In addition to reducing body mass index (BMI) and body fatness, habitual physical activity is associated with improvements across many health outcomes, which may not be apparent to most individuals. Research studies have found daily physical activity among children and youth is associated with:

•Increased health-related fitness
•Improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk profiles
•Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood
•Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in childhood and adulthood
•Boosts in bone health and development
•Improvements in mental health and well-being
•Improvements in cognitive and academic performance
•Betterments in motor control and physical functioning

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends children and youth engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily, including vigorous-intensity activity on at least 3 days per week. These 60 minutes should also include muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least 3 days per week. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity includes activities, which make you sweat or breathe hard, such as running, swimming, and bicycling.

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Muscle-strengthening activities include exercises that make your muscles work harder than during daily life, such as doing push-ups, playing tug-of-war, or climbing monkey bars.

Bone-strengthening exercises produce force on the bones to promote bone growth and strength, such as when your feet make contact with the ground when playing sports or jumping rope.

Certain lifestyle and environmental characteristics impact physical activity levels among children and youth. Although the benefits of physical activity for children and youth are similar, research shows that these two age groups are motivated and influenced to be active in different ways. In a systematic review of the correlates of physical activity, parental weight status, preference for physical activity, healthy diet, and time spent outdoors were associated with childhood physical activity levels while white ethnicity, younger age, parental support, and community sports team participation were associated with physical activity levels in youth. The only factors consistently associated with increased activity in both age groups were being male, having the intention/motivation to be active, and having a history of previous physical activity.

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