Friday, 19 September 2014

Some is better than none!

We have just published an article in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education entitled “Associations between physical activity in adolescence and health behaviours, well- being, family and social relations”.

The health benefits of physical activity have long been recognised; regular physical activity is linked to both positive long term health1 and emotional well-being2.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends young people have at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Despite the well documented benefits of physical activity, findings from the 2010 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study indicate only a minority of young people across Europe and North America reach the WHO recommendation3. In England, only 28% of boys and 15% of girls reported being physically active for at least one hour per day. Figure 1 (taken from the HBSC England 2010 national report) shows boys are more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity across all ages, however for both boys and girls the likelihood of being physically active for one hour each day decreases with age.  

There is a lot of emphasis on young people not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity, but little work has been done to establish the benefits of young people undertaking at least some physical activity. While a minority of young people in England reported being physically active every day of the week, most did report being physically active between 3 – 6 days a week.  Our recent paper addresses the impact different levels of physical activity can have upon adolescent’s health and well-being, leisure activities and social relationships.  

The HBSC England 2010 study measured physical activity via the question “over the past 7 days, on how many days were you physically active for a total of at least 1 hour per day?” We grouped young people’s physical activity levels into low (0-2 days), medium (3-6 days) and high (7 days). Analysis of the data demonstrated even medium levels of physical activity was associated with a number of positive health and wellbeing outcomes. Students who reported medium or high levels of physical activity were more likely to say their health was good or excellent and were more likely to report high levels of life satisfaction. Engaging in physical activity at least a few times a week was also beneficial for student’s body image – they were less likely to perceive themselves as being “too fat”. Moreover, those who reported medium levels of physical activity were more likely to have healthier eating habits and less likely to perform unhealthy behaviours such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Not only were health and wellbeing benefits associated with physical activity, but also a number of social aspects. 

Our paper identified links between engaging in physical activity and number of friends as well as participation in family sporting activities. It appears engaging in physical activity, even if does not meet the WHO recommended guidelines, can have a number of positive implications for young people’s health and social wellbeing.

For a thorough discussion of these findings click here to access our paper, published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education.

  1. Hallal, P. C., Victoria, C. G., Azevedo, M. & Wells, J. C. (2006). Adolescent physical activity and health: A systematic review. Sports Med, 36 (12), 1019-1030.
  2. Brooks, F. & Magnusson, J. (2006). Taking part counts: Adolescents experiences of the transition from inactivity to active participation in school based physical education. Health Education Research, 21 (6), 872-883.
  3. Currie, C., C. Zanotti, A. Morgan, M. de Looze, C. Roberts, O. Samdal, O. Smith & V. Barnekow. 2012. Social determinants of health and well-being among young people: Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study (HBSC): International Report from the 2009/2010 Survey. Copenhagen Denmark: The World Health Organisation (WHO).