Nearly 60% of young Americans lack cardiorespiratory fitness, a key measure of fitness and overall health, according to a statement released Monday by the American Heart Association (AHA).
Needless to say, this is a disturbing figure. Cardiorespiratory form, also known as aerobic form, refers to the body’s ability to supply muscles with oxygen during physical activity. As the AHA statement points out, children who do not have such a physical condition are at increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke when they become adults. They also tend to develop these cardiovascular diseases, as well as type 2 diabetes, at an earlier age than their aerobic peers.
However, cardiorespiratory fitness does more than help children avoid future chronic illnesses. It also offers them immediate benefits. Research has found that physically fit children tend to have fewer incidents of mental health issues and a higher sense of self-worth and life satisfaction. They also do better academically.
Yet young Americans have become less and less fit in recent years. A 2014 study found that only half of American boys and one-third of American girls aged 12 to 15 could pass the cardiorespiratory fitness test. These numbers were down considerably from a decade earlier. The proportion of boys in good aerobic fitness rose from 65 percent in 1999 to 50 percent in 2012. Among girls, the figures fell from 41 percent to 34 percent.
The study also found that only 54 percent of youth whose weight fell within the ânormalâ range were in aerobic shape. Among overweight children, this figure has fallen to 30%. And among obese children, it was even lower: 20%.
The reasons why children’s physical condition deteriorates are not well understood, the authors of the AHA statement stress. However, a decline in physical activity appears to be a major (and obvious) contributor. Overall, children are spending less time exercising and playing physically active games than before. It is less clear that increased sedentary behavior (distinct from reduced physical activity) is a factor. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, studies showed that children spent more time watching television, playing video games and engaging in other ‘screen time’ activities than in the past. But, as the AHA statement notes, a recent meta-analysis suggested that this was a bigger problem for cardiorespiratory fitness in young children than in adolescents.
Social, economic and environmental factors are also likely to contribute to the decline in cardiorespiratory capacity of young people. Research has found that physical activity tends to be less among children living in low-income urban areas, possibly because they have less access to safe places to play sports or exercise. . Additionally, schools that serve children in poorer neighborhoods often reduce or eliminate physical education or outdoor recreation due to budget shortages.
It is not just an American problem. A recent study reported that children living in countries with a large income gap between their rich and poor residents had poorer cardiorespiratory fitness.
What parents can do
“Cardiorespiratory fitness is crucial for good heart and overall health in both childhood and adulthood,” says Dr Geetha Rahuveer, one of the authors of the AHA statement and professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri, in a released statement. âWe need to get kids moving and getting them involved in regular physical activity. “
âThe best activity is the activity that a child or teen enjoys that lasts longer,â she adds. âThe habits they develop when they are young will directly benefit their health in adulthood. “
Engaging children and adolescents in moderate to vigorous physical activity for the recommended minimum of one hour per day is a particular challenge during the current pandemic. Schools have been closed, most youth sports leagues have canceled programs, and children cannot get together for informal ball games.
So it’s up to the parents. The AHA offers these tips to keep the whole family moving more at home:
- Make active chore cards. Let each family member draw a card each day with a different active task that needs to be done. Cleaning up after dinner, walking the dog, taking out the trash, folding laundry, and unloading the dishwasher are all great ways to get your family off the couch and chores around the house.
- Free up space, put on some music and take a dancing break! It can re-energize a study session, a lazy Sunday, or a game night. Let each person take turns playing the DJ role so everyone’s favorites are played.
- Put screens on hold. Instead of heading straight to the TV or game console after dinner, take this family activity for a while. Take a walk, play a sport or play a game of hide and seek.
- Tune in to fitness during TV hour. Walk or run in place or on a treadmill, lift weights, or do yoga while you watch your favorite shows. Break up a TV frenzy with a little activity between episodes. Or challenge each other to see who can do the most burpees, push-ups, or jumping jacks during commercial breaks.
- Shake up your family’s routine. Join your kids for a bike ride or pull baskets before starting homework and chores. You will all feel better and think better.
- Actively play with animals. Throw a ball or stick for the dog to pick up. Lead the cat in a chase around the house.
- Include active games in family game nights, like Twister, charades and hide and seek.
- Keep a list of kid-friendly activities on hand because when you hear “I’m bored”.
- Choose toys for your children that encourage physical activity, like balls, skateboards, hoops and skipping ropes.
- Keep exercise equipment outside where it can easily be used for a quick workout.
- Instead of always having the TV on for company or background noise, play music that prompts you to get up and move.
- When it’s sunny, walk or cycle around your neighborhood.
- Prepare your garden. Gardening, mowing, and yard work are great ways to get exercise outdoors. No court? No problem! Try container gardening or a local community garden.
- After a heavy rain, put on some old clothes, grab some towels and take the kids out for a good old-fashioned mud fight.
IMF: The AHA statement was published in the journal Circulation.