Life Wellbeing Teenagers are sluggish as senior citizens, experts say, and school is to blame

Teenagers are sluggish as senior citizens, experts say, and school is to blame

Teenagers are as inactive as senior citizens, and teenage girls are the worst, experts say
Teenagers are as inactive as senior citizens, and teenage girls are the worst, experts say Photo: Getty
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Teenagers, near the prime of their physical lives, have become so sluggardly, most of them are as physically inactive as senior citizens with their creaky knees and slowing metabolism.

And girls are the worst – with 75 per cent of teenage girls not meeting World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations for daily exercise.

This is according to a huge US study in which the researchers declare themselves shocked by the extent of decline in physical activity during the teenage years.

The New Daily has spoken to Australian experts who say the problem is just as bad here. Some figures suggest we’re doing worse.

It’s no surprise digital screen-time slavery gets much of the blame – with kids spending hours a day logged on and zoning out – but the US researchers question whether long hours sitting in school classrooms is contributing to the problem.

Or turning that around, they’re suggesting that a shakeup of school time-tabling – and an increase in physical activity away from the classroom – might break the lack of movement.

“Activity levels at the end of adolescence were alarmingly low, and by age 19, they were comparable to 60-year-olds,” the study’s senior author, Vadim Zipunnikov, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Biostatistics, said in a statement.

“For school-age children, the primary window for activity was the afternoon between 2 and 6pm. So the big question is how do we modify daily schedules, in schools for example, to be more conducive to increasing physical activity?”

The Bloomberg study – which gathered activity data from 12,529 participants who wore tracking devices for seven straight days – identified different times throughout the day when activity was highest and lowest, across age groups and between males and females.

Children and teens were least active in the mornings – and Professor Zipunnikov suggested that spreading out activity more evenly through the day could help encourage more exercise among kids.

WHO recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day for children ages five to 17 years.

The 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey (AHS) found only one in three children, and one in 10 young people met the WHO recommendations.

Dr Michalis Stylianou, a researcher at the University of Queensland with a focus on promoting physical activity for children and adolescents, pointed to the Active Healthy Kids Australia’s 2016 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People.

The report gave Australia an unambiguous failing grade of D-minus in a survey of 38 other countries.

Dr Stylianou said new guidelines for schools recommended 60 minutes of activity a day during recess and lunchtimes. He also said there were recommendations for breaking up sitting time in classrooms.

“I would argue that most teachers and schools are not across those guidelines,” Dr Stylianou told The New Daily.

He said some researchers were beginning to focus on sedentary behaviour in schools.

“We’re a bit behind with that, it’s only now coming into focus.”

In reality, children were spending half their waking hours at school and were sitting down for most of that time. Restructuring the school day may be in order.

“But it’s complicated,” he said.

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