The Truth about Best Physical Activities for Kids (from Baseball to Wii Tennis)

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It can be a chore to figure out how to get kids the right levels of physical activity.

Current guidelines recommend different intensity and frequency for different aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activities for kids.

What’s that mean? More running? Jumping? Organized sports? Active video games?

A new list—the Youth Compendium of Physical Activities—sheds light on 196 youth physical activities and the estimated energy expenditure for each.

This collection of everything from basketball to running to to cycling to Wii Sports offers parents, teachers, coaches, healthcare workers, and researchers better insight into which physical activities contribute to a healthier lifestyle, thanks to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research.

Compendium of Physical Activities for Adults

Advances in science have lead to a wealth of research and discovery.

However, scientific findings are often not translated into meaningful or culturally relevant public health messages. And most research has focused on adults, not children.

In 1993, the first Compendium of Physical Activities for adults is a collection of common physical activities and the estimated energy expenditure for each activity.

All physical activity expends energy, also known as calories.

Energy expenditure is measured in units called metabolic equivalents (METs). These units can be used to quantify the intensity of specific physical activities.

Intensity is categorized as light (less than 3 METs), moderate (3-6 METs) or vigorous (more than 6 METs) intensity.

For example, sitting quietly is light intensity (1.0 MET), walking 3 miles per hour is moderate intensity (3.3 METs), jogging is vigorous intensity (7.0 METs), and running a 10-minute-mile-pace is vigorous intensity (9.8 METS).

Although the specific cellular and molecular mechanisms by which energy expenditure improves health are not fully understood, it is well documented that moderate intensity physical activities (3-6 METs) produce various physiological effects in our organs, tissues and cells that reduce our risk for numerous chronic diseases.

Sustained muscle contraction, from moderate activity, increases insulin sensitivity, glycemic control in insulin resistance, HDL choloesterol, electrical stability of the heart, and heart structure and function, and reduces inflammation, blood pressure, risk of type II diabetes, risk of heart attack, risk of stroke, and risk of dementia.

Vigorous intensity activities also produce these health benefits, but a common misconception is that only vigorous intensity activities produce these benefits.

There is a very important distinction between physical activity for health and exercise for fitness or weight loss. Adults benefits from moderate intensity physical activity.

Latina ballerina practicing in a dance studio.

Thirty minutes per day, five days per week, of moderate intensity physical activity drastically reduces adults’ risk for diabetes, heart disease, numerous cancers, and depression. More activity equals more health benefits.

You can find 800 activities and the estimated energy expenditure of each activity, in English or Spanish, in the updated 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities for adults.

However, energy expenditure is not the same for children, thus adult values are inappropriate for youth.

First Youth Compendium of Physical Activities

A compendium for youth was developed in 2008.

But due to limited data, the energy expenditure values were based on adult values.

Confusion about which activities provide health benefits for youth, combined with a lack of access to safe places to walk, bike and play, contribute to health disparities and developmental gaps among Latino children.

A Youth Energy Expenditure workgroup was established in 2012 by the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research to develop energy expenditure values for youth.

The new compendium adjusted the youth MET (METy) to account for the unique physiological characteristics of children and adolescents, by age group: 6-9, 10-12, 13-15, and 16-18.

Intensity is also categorized as light (less than 3 METys), moderate (3-6 METys) or vigorous (more than 6 METys) intensity.

For example, for a youth age 6-9, Wii tennis is light intensity (1.6 METys), riding a bike slowly is moderate intensity (3.7 METys), and jumping rope is vigorous intensity (6.9 METys).

Youth need 60 minutes every day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity.

You can find 196 activities and the estimated energy expenditure for each activity across four age categories to help you determine which activities will help your child or your students be their healthiest.

What are your favorite physical activities? Tell us!

By The Numbers By The Numbers

84

percent

of Latino parents support public funding for afterschool programs.

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