WFU professor, expert panel: children need 60 minutes of daily activity

By Maggie Barrett
June 24, 2005

School-age children (kindergarten through grade 12) should participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, says a panel of 13 health experts whose recommendations are featured in the June issue of "The Journal of Pediatrics."

Patricia Nixon, Wake Forest University associate professor of health and exercise science, was one of the panelists. Nixon, whose research interests include the assessment of physical activity in children, teaches physiology of exercise and epidemiology at Wake Forest. She is also associate professor of pediatrics at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Nixon and her colleagues based their recommendations on evidence gathered from 850 research articles and 1,200 abstracts focused on the impact of physical activity on various child health issues, ranging from body fat to how children perceive themselves.

Nixon says most of the research she and the other panelists reviewed was based on children engaging in 30 to 45 minutes of continuous moderate to vigorous physical activity, three to five times a week. She says the panel arrived at the recommendation of 60 minutes because kids, especially younger kids, are rarely active continuously for 30 to 45 minutes.

"They have brief bursts of activity throughout the day," Nixon says. "The panel felt that a recommendation of 60 minutes was appropriate to ensure that the total amount of activity was sufficient."

When it comes to today's overscheduled kids, finding a 60-minute block of free time to dedicate to physical activity may be difficult. Nixon and her colleagues say that the recommended 60 minutes can be achieved in a cumulative manner in daily physical education classes, as well as recess, intramural sports and before- and after-school programs.

Due to pressures from "No Child Left Behind" and other programs that hold schools accountable for students' academic performance, more time is being taken away from physical education and other opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day. Nixon and her colleagues say there is a limited amount of research on the relationship between physical activity and academic performance, but the evidence is encouraging for those in favor of making physical education a priority in schools again.

"The research available shows that taking time away from the classroom for physical education is not detrimental to students' academic performance," Nixon says.

Nixon says research on whether physical activity improves a child's academic performance is currently under investigation, but that concrete results may be difficult to obtain.

"There are other influences to consider," Nixon says. "It could be that the kids who are regularly physically active and do well in school have parents encouraging them to be physically active and to get good grades."

The other influences on children's daily lives are why Nixon and her colleagues say getting schools to include more physical education is just part of the picture. Preschools, pediatricians, day care centers, after-school programs and parents also need to invest time and energy in getting children to be physically active.

"Since my nephew was 6 weeks old, he has been taken on hikes by his parents," Nixon says. "When he turned 2 years old, he started asking his parents to go on hikes. Now at just 5 years old, he appears to be well on his way to developing a lifelong habit of regular physical activity, thanks to his parents' efforts."

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