The collaborative study was led by the University of Alberta in Canada and included other researchers from Queen's University, the University of Manitoba and the University of Newcastle.
The findings were recently published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and showed that children only need to exercise for seven minutes every day to prevent weight gain and obesity. However, principal investigator Richard Lewanczuk, a researcher at the University of Alberta, said that the exercise needed to be “intense” for children to gain the health benefits associated with exercise and that most children are not doing this.
The study was conducted among 600 children aged nine to seventeen. The participants had their weight and waist measurements recorded, and their blood pressure was monitored regularly. Over a period of seven days they were required to wear a device that tracked their levels of physical activity.
The data revealed that children spent 70 percent of their time in sedentary activities, 23 percent in light physical activity, just under seven percent doing moderate activity, and 0.6 percent of time engaged in vigorous physical activity. On average, boys showed to be more active than girls.
Results also showed that the more active children were, the less likely they were to be overweight. Children who were overweight showed improved fitness levels and reduced waist measurements as their level of vigorous activity increased.
Interestingly, the team also found that children who did only mild or moderate activity did not receive the same health benefits as those doing vigorous activity, even if the amount of time spent on those activities was increased.
Mr Lewanczuk said "This research tells us that a brisk walk isn't good enough. Kids have to get out and do a high-intensity activity in addition to maintaining a background of mild to moderate activity. There's a strong correlation between obesity, fitness and activity. Activity and fitness is linked to a reduction in obesity and good health outcomes."
Mr Lewanczuk stated the importance of getting young children to incorporate vigorous physical activity into their daily routine, especially at school, as activity levels drop off during evenings and weekends. He says he hopes the research assist schools in determining their types of mandatory physical activity programs in future.