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Active, healthy lifestyles
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2 How active should young people be?

Physical activity in childhood has a range of benefits, including healthy growth and development, maintenance of a healthy weight, mental well-being and learning social skills. It is particularly important for bone health, increasing bone mineral density and preventing osteoporosis in later life. Although there is only indirect evidence (compared with adults) linking physical inactivity in children with childhood health outcomes, there is strong justification for encouraging young people to be physically active.

(Department of Health, Chief Medical Officer, At least five a week: Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health, April 2004)

But how active should young people be? How much activity is enough?

In 1998 the Health Education Authority in England published recommendations about how active young people should be. This was significant as, for the first time, it helped us to answer the important question: ‘Are young people active enough?’

The recommendations were based on current scientific evidence and expert opinion, and framed in the context of current lifestyles of young people.

The primary recommendations are:

  • ‘All young people should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity for one hour per day.

  • Young people who currently do little activity should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity for at least half an hour per day.’

While the secondary, or subsidiary, recommendation is:

  • ‘At least twice a week, some of these activities should help to enhance and maintain muscular strength and flexibility, and bone health.’

(Source: Health Education Authority, New Recommendations for Promoting Health-Enhancing Physical Activity with Young people (5–18 yrs)).

Moderate intensity activities might include brisk walking, cycling, swimming or dance, in addition to most sports. There is no requirement for the activity to be performed in a continuous fashion; it may be undertaken intermittently throughout the day.

Have a look at the recommendations in detail in Activity 2.

Activity 2

Read: Health Education Authority, New Recommendations for Promoting Health-Enhancing Physical Activity with Young People (5–18 yrs). It is available by clicking on this link:

New recommendations for promoting health-enhancing physical activity with young people (5–18 yrs) [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Then consider the following:

  • Does the rationale for each recommendation seem sound?

  • Why do you think there are two levels of Primary recommendation, depending on current activity levels?

  • Is this relevant information for the PE profession?

  • How would you anticipate using this information in your school?

  • How much control do you think young people have over their activity levels?

  • Does this have implications for your teaching?

You might like to ask a group of your students to keep an activity diary over several days.