Monday, 1 August 2016

Physical activity in children and youth: themes and consensus

'Physical activity boosts kids' brain power and academic prowess' went the press release accompanying the consensus statement published by Jens Bangsbo and colleagues [1] (open-access).

The consensus statement brought together researchers from around the world "and from a variety of academic disciplines" to emphasise how undertaking all-manner of different kinds of exercise "are still a good investment in academic achievement" when it comes to children aged between 6-18 years of age.

The statement is open-access but a few choice passages are particularly worthy of highlighting including the idea that there are various positive physical effects from exercise (as if you needed telling): "Frequent moderate-intensity and, to a lesser extent, low-intensity exercise improves cardiometabolic fitness in children and youth." I might at this point also refer you to the findings by Ekelund and colleagues [2] that made some headlines recently suggesting that about 65-70 minutes of "moderate intensity physical activity" a day might be something to aim for across different age groups. Yes, move more.

Perhaps just as important are the various associations being made between exercise and other important areas of health and well-being including that: "Physical activity before, during and after school promotes scholastic performance in children and youth" and: "Mastery of fundamental movement skills is beneficial to cognition and scholastic performance in children and youth." Being careful not to fall into the trap that is 'those who exercise are more 'smarter' than those who don't' the idea that mastering movement skills might be another positive from exercise is an important point to make. As I've said before on this blog (see here) one particular pastime ticks a lot of boxes in terms of exercise and a particular focus on fine and gross motor skills: the martial arts. Added to the fact that some important life skills can be gained from disciplines such as karate (e.g. self-confidence) and I'd be the first to advocate more children and young adults getting involved in such activities. Indeed, this is something else covered in the Bangsbo article: "Physical activity-based positive youth development programmes that have an intentional curriculum and deliberate training are effective at promoting life skills (eg, interpersonal, self-regulation skills) and core values (eg, respect and social responsibility) in children and youth."

Finally, I leave you with another important point raised in the consensus statement: "Social inclusion can be promoted by providing equal access to opportunities within physical activity and sports settings regardless of children and young people's social, cultural, physical and demographic characteristics." Wearing my autism research hat, I might agree with the tenets of this point (see here) applied to the autism spectrum and how participation in sports and exercise can be a really important part of social inclusion strategies.

Now, added to exercise potentially improving academic outcomes, how about some outdoor learning too and importantly, making sure that children and young people get enough [quality] sleep?


[1] Bangsbo J. et al. The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 27. pii: bjsports-2016-096325.

[2] Ekelund U. et al. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality? A harmonised meta-analysis of data from more than 1 million men and women. Lancet. 2016. July 27.

---------- Bangsbo J, Krustrup P, Duda J, Hillman C, Andersen LB, Weiss M, Williams CA, Lintunen T, Green K, Hansen PR, Naylor PJ, Ericsson I, Nielsen G, Froberg K, Bugge A, Lundbye-Jensen J, Schipperijn J, Dagkas S, Agergaard S, von Seelen J, Østergaard C, Skovgaard T, Busch H, & Elbe AM (2016). The Copenhagen Consensus Conference 2016: children, youth, and physical activity in schools and during leisure time. British journal of sports medicine PMID: 27354718