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FIT LIFE: U.S. kids failing in physical activity

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Heather Hausenblas, associate professor of kinesiology in the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences

It’s that time of year for kids to bring home their academic report card. But what about their physical activity report card?The good news is that the first-ever U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth recently came out, a new guidepost devised by the National Physical Activity Plan alliance and the American College of Sports Medicine.

The bad news is that our country’s young people are getting poor grades. If these scores counted toward grade progression, most of our youths would be repeating the grade.The nation earned a D-minus for overall physical activity because only 25 percent of our youths do at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. As kids get older, it gets even worse, with only 8 percent of youths ages 12-15 getting more than 60 minutes of daily moderate activity.

Meanwhile, children and youths spend about 425 minutes a day (more than 7 hours) in sedentary pursuits, which resulted in a D. In other words, they spend about half their waking hours doing things like watching TV, playing on mobile devices and being on computers.

Even worse, our youths are failing when it comes to biking or walking to places. Yep — a big F! Only 13 percent walk or bike to school, to their friends’ houses or around the neighborhood. Over the last 45 years, the proportion of children walking or biking to school has decreased by 35 percent. We are driving our kids to unhealthy habits.

There is some hope: Adolescents got a C-minus for playing organized sports. The criterion used was the percentage of high school students participating on at least one sports team, and the finding was about 55 percent.

Although this grade is better, youths tend to get more physical activity from unstructured free play than from organized sport.

The highest mark, a B-minus, was awarded for the nation’s community efforts, with 85 percent of children living in a neighborhood with at least one park or playground.

Unfortunately, the parks and playgrounds are largely deserted. “If you build it, they will come” does not apply to these community efforts.

In short, the results of the United States Report Card on Physical Activity shows that our kids aren’t meeting activity levels required to maintain good health. Parents are concerned when their children bring home failing grades in academics.

Isn’t it time that we approach physical activity the same way. The health of our nation’s youth depends on it.


Can I exercise away my wrinkles?

Are you still getting carded? If so, you may be able to thank your workout for your youthful appearance. Recent research finds that exercisers have visibly younger skin than their sedentary friends. Exercise appears to change the skin’s composition, resulting in a younger appearance. How much younger? Up to a decade or two. Wrinkles are an inevitable part of aging, but you may be able to maintain your skin’s youthful appearance by sweating instead of applying lotions, fillers and cosmetics.

Fit Life, by fitness and healthy aging expert Heather Hausenblas, associate professor of kinesiology in the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences, appears the first Monday of each month in the Outside section of The Florida Times-Union. This column appeared June 1, 2014. E-mail your questions to hhausen@ju.edu. For more on JU’s Department of Kinesiology, visit ju.edu/COHS.