The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 80% of the world’s teens don’t get enough exercise to live healthy lives. The pattern of inactivity could have serious effects as these teens become adults.
The report, which was published in The Lancet, was based on research done with students aged 11 to 17 in 146 different countries. The WHO has been studying teen activity levels since 2001 and reports that not much has changed since then.
The WHO says that kids should get at least an hour of medium to vigorous (hard) exercise every day. This could include walking, running, biking, dancing, playing sports, or many other activities.
Doctors say 60 minutes of exercise is needed for teens to build up their bone and muscle strength. It’s also hugely important for the health of the heart and lungs. Regular activity can help people control their weight, too.
More and more research is showing that exercise doesn’t just help the body, it can help the brain, too, improving thinking, test scores, and school grades.
Trevor Shilton, who works for the Heart Foundation in Australia, says, “If this [exercise] were a medicine, we’d all be taking it.”
Activity levels were different in different countries, and they were also very different between boys and girls. In the US, for example, 64% of boys were not active enough, compared to 80% of girls.
South Korea was the country with the lowest activity levels – 91% of the boys and 97% of the girls didn’t get enough exercise. The country with the most active students was Bangladesh, but even there, 63% of the boys and 69% of the girls were not active enough.
One big reason for the lack of activity in today’s teens is technology, such as smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs. Many teens find it very hard to pull themselves away from their devices, whether they are texting, playing games, or watching videos or movies.
The WHO warns that young people need to do less playing in the digital world, and more playing in the real world.
Health experts want schools and families to encourage teens to be more active. Teens should take part in sports, whether on official teams or just playing around on the playground.
Exercise can also be built into a normal day’s activities. For many people, walking or biking to school is one way to make that happen. Even those who have to drive to school can get more exercise by parking farther away.
Doctors point out that the 60 minutes each day don’t need to be done all at once. They can be broken down into smaller chunks, like 20 minutes, three times a day.
Experts believe that it’s very important for young people to build these habits now, because the positive effects of those habits can carry through into adult life. Studies show that the best way to predict how active someone will be as an adult is to look at how active they were as a teen.
Did You Know…?
*If you’d like to see the results for all of the countries studied, you can look at the information collected by the researchers.