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More than half of U.S. kids still aren’t getting enough exercise

Researchers say this could ultimately affect mental health and academic performance

Photo (c) VioletaStoimenova - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted how kids around the globe aren’t getting nearly enough physical activity on a daily basis, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only amplified concerns around children’s activity habits. 

Now, researchers from the American Heart Association (AHA) have found that more than half of all kids in the U.S. struggle to meet cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) guidelines. The researchers explained that CRF measures how well the body delivers oxygen to the muscles during exercise, and it can have an impact on both physical and mental health beyond childhood. 

“CRF is a single measure that shows how strong the heart, lungs, and blood circulation are in children,” said researcher Dr. Geetha Raghuveer. “Whereas measuring body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels tell us about each of these individual risk factors, measuring CRF provides a comprehensive assessment of a child’s overall health.” 

Incorporating more physical activity

Having a regular physical activity routine is one of the primary ways that kids can get better cardiorespiratory fitness, though recent studies have consistently found that the majority of kids struggle with physical activity. 

According to their findings, the researchers learned that overall activity levels for kids have plummeted in recent years, whereas time spent in front of screens has been on the uptick. 

However, despite these trends, they also explained that it’s possible for kids to change their habits and adopt more movement into their daily routines. Getting kids to be engaged in an exercise routine that adults would follow can be tricky, but it also isn’t entirely necessary. Playing sports is a great way for little ones to get periods of exercise without overdoing it or getting distracted. 

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is crucial for good heart and overall health both in childhood and as children become adults,” said Dr. Raghuveer. “We’ve got to get kids moving and engaged in regular physical activity, such as in any sports they enjoy. The best activity is the activity a child or teen likes and that is sustained for a longer period. The habits they learn when they’re young will directly benefit their health as they become adults.” 

Increasing testing 

Measuring kids’ CRF is the first step in gauging their health; however, the researchers explained that doctors typically aren’t testing kids’ CRF unless they already have a medical condition that could put them at risk. They did find that many schools conduct tests for CRF in gym class, requiring students to participate in a running exercise that is designed to assess their fitness level. 

While parents receive the results of these assessments, the researchers suggest that medical professionals should get them as well. This would ensure that kids’ health is examined from all angles and interventions can be added as needed. 

“Every child would benefit from CRF testing as part of a yearly physical and doing so may identify children who would benefit from lifestyle interventions that can improve health,” said Dr. Raghuveer. “In the meantime, requiring physical activity for every grade level through high school would be a step in the right direction.” 

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