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Study: children’s aerobic fitness has declined dramatically

kids-fitness-on-the-declineHere’s a stat no parent of young kids wants to hear: today’s children run a mile 90 seconds slower than kids did 30 years ago.

According to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013 this November, children’s cardiovascular fitness is declining dramatically worldwide. This can have grave effects on a child’s health down the road. If a person is generally unfit during childhood, he or she is much more likely to develop chronic health conditions, like heart disease, as an adult.

A summary of the research
Researchers looked at more than 50 studies on running fitness conducted between the years 1964-2010. This research involved more than 25 million children, aged 9-17, in 28 countries.

The experts measured cardiovascular fitness by distance children could run over a set period of time or by how long it took the kids to run a set distance. Most tests ranged from 5-15 minutes and covered 0.5-2 miles.

The study found the following:

  • Aerobic fitness declined significantly over 46 years for all children. Average changes were found between boys and girls, younger and older children, and across nearby regions.
  • In the U.S., kids’ fitness dropped by 6 percent each decade between 1970- 2000.
  • Globally, kids’ endurance has continued to decline by 5 percent per decade.
  • Today’s children are 15 percent less cardiovascular fit than their parents were at the same age.
  • Nowadays, it takes kids about 90 seconds longer to run a mile than it did 30 years ago.

This research is significant; it’s the first of its kind to show that kids’ cardiovascular fitness has declined worldwide since 1975. Experts suspect the overweight and obesity epidemic is at least partly to blame. As kids’ fat mass increased, their running performance decreased.

How you can help your children
What’s a concerned parent to do? Encourage aerobic exercise. The word “aerobic” is the key here. If your child is a gymnast or wrestler, that’s great that he or she is active. However, those types of exercise focus on strength and flexibility, not cardiovascular fitness.

Aerobic fitness is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time. Experts say that children need at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, like swimming, running, or cycling, every day.

Chase your toddlers around outside and invite your older kids to join you on a run a few times per week. Consider registering your child in a 1-mile fun run or kids’ race and encourage them to train like mommy and daddy. You may spark a love of running – and give them the gift of good health down the road, which is so much more important.

Written by Jen Matz