More than half of children in the United States are not getting the recommended amount of 420 minutes per week of physical activity, according to new findings recently presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2018 National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla.

And among those who do meet the weekly exercise requirements, most are active for fewer days and for longer periods of time, risking burnout or repetitive injury risk. In fact, only around 5 percent of children meet the daily recommendations for exercise (60 minutes per day).

Previous research has consistently shown a link between higher levels of physical activity and better mental health in both adults and children. In particular, exercise has been found to reduce depression and improve memory.

For the new study, researchers looked at the self-reported physical activity levels of 7,822 children over a three-year period. The children were seen at outpatient pediatric sports medicine clinics.

Their findings show that only 5.2 percent of children reported meeting the daily goals for physical activity. In addition, 49.6 percent were insufficiently active, and 5 percent reported no physical activity.

The categories were based on the number of minutes per week in which children participated in physical activity based on the recommended 60 minutes per day or 420 minutes of activity per week.

“Exercise should be used as a vital sign of health,” said abstract presenter Julie Young, M.A., A.T.C., a research assistant in the Division of Pediatric Sports Medicine, Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“There are numerous advantages of physical activity. Asking these questions can open the door for clinicians to have important conversations with families on how to ensure children get these benefits.”

Based on the findings, boys averaged 61 more minutes of physical activity per week than girls. Boys were also 39 percent more likely than girls to meet the current physical activity guidelines of 420 minutes per week.

Researchers also found that physical activity tends to increase with age, with younger children reporting less exercise. Early childhood physical activity is vital to develop motor skills and physical literacy, which can impact physical activity behaviors throughout life.

“Opportunities for physical activity are shrinking — less free play and decreased physical education in schools,” said Amy Valasek, M.D., M.S., physician for Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Ohio State University College of Medicine

“But by asking simple questions about daily activity, clinicians can counsel and provide an exercise prescription for healthy physical activity.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics