Healthy Children - March 2012


Physical Activity Facts

  • Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
  • In 2009, only 18% of high school students had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity, and only 33% attended physical education class daily.
  • Schools can promote physical activity through comprehensive school physical activity programs, including recess, classroom-based physical activity, intramural physical activity clubs, interscholastic sports, and physical education.
  • Schools should ensure that physical education is provided to all students in all grades and is taught by qualified teachers.
  • Schools can also work with community organizations to provide out-of-school-time physical activity programs and share physical activity facilities.


Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. Helps reduce the risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer.
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes psychological well-being.
  • May help improve students’ academic performance, including:
    • Academic achievement and grades
    • Academic behavior, such as time on task
    • Factors that influence academic achievement, such as concentration and attentiveness in the classroom.


Long-Term Consequences of Physical Inactivity

  • Overweight and obesity, which are influenced by physical inactivity and poor diet, can increase one’s risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, and poor health status.
  • Physical inactivity increases one’s risk for dying prematurely, dying of heart disease, and developing diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.


Participation in Physical Activity by Young People

  • In a nationally representative survey, 77% of children aged 9–13 years reported participating in free-time physical activity during the previous 7 days.
  • In 2009, only 18% percent of high school students surveyed had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on each of the 7 days before the survey.
  • Twenty-three percent of high school students surveyed had not participated in 60 or more minutes of any kind of physical activity on any day during the 7 days before the survey.
  • Participation in physical activity declines as young people age.


Percentage of High School Students Participating in Physical Activity and Physical Education, by Sex, 2009

Type of ActivityGirlsBoys
At least 60 minutes/day of physical activitya 11.4% 24.8%
Attended physical education class dailyb 31.9% 34.6%

a: Any kind of physical activity that increased heart rate and made them breathe hard some of the time for at least 60 minutes per day on each of the 7 days before the survey.

b: Attended physical education classes 5 days in an average week when they were in school.

Participation in Physical Education Classes

  • In 2009, over half (56%) of high school students (72% of 9th-grade students but only 44% of 12th-grade students) attended physical education classes in an average week.
  • The percentage of high school students who attended physical education classes daily decreased from 42% in 1991 to 25% in 1995 and remained stable at that level until 2009 (33%).
  • In 2009, 47% of 9th-grade students but only 22% of 12th-grade students attended physical education class daily.


Key Resources
School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool

Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit

The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Physical Education, and Academic Performance
(Full report)
(Executive Summary)