Results of a global study, released in 2019, show the majority of teens and tweens are not getting enough exercise.

According to the study, which looked at 1.6 million students worldwide in 2016, 80% of children ages 11-17 are not meeting the physical activity guidelines.

The World Health Organization says this age group should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily.

Dr. Jennifer Franceschelli Hosterman, the Director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at Geisinger says she is somewhat surprised at the high percentage but not entirely surprised at the results.

“Kids that are younger are more influenced by their parents and physical activity is built into their day, through playtime, recess, and physical activity classes, whereas you get older, like middle school and high school, that dedicated time just isn’t there anymore,” says Dr. Hosterman. “Since that activity isn’t built-in anymore, competing priorities take precedent.”

Dr. Hosterman says you can tell if you are performing at a moderate to vigorous effort by performing a “talk test.”

“You shouldn’t really be able to tell a long story while you’re exercising,” she explains. “If you can only say a couple of sentences or words, we know you’re in that range.”

Finding an activity your child enjoys will help to promote their activity level, explains Dr. Hosterman. In addition, know that the 60 minutes can be broken down into four, 15-minute intervals or two, 30-minute intervals throughout the day.

“Three of those days should be some sort of muscle-strengthening exercise,” says Dr. Hosterman. She gave examples of tree climbing, lifting weights, or using resistance bands.

“Three of the other days should be bone-strengthening and those are more of what we think of kids doing, like running, hopping, skipping, and jumping,” she explained.

For children who meet the 60-minutes per day guideline, they see physical and mental health benefits.

“Kids that get more physical activity tend to do better cognitively, their memory tends to be better, tend to have better school performance, their classroom tasks are improved,” explains Dr. Hosterman.

In terms of physical health, Dr. Hosterman says cardiorespiratory fitness is improved as well as bone health, lean muscle mass and the ability to maintain a healthy weight while reducing risk factors for heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers.

Dr. Hosterman gave the following advice for parents trying to help their kids be more physically active:

  • Find something they enjoy: a team sport, or a group activity so they are excited to participate
  • Walk the walk: model good behaviors so kids follow suit, make family walks a priority