The Importance of Physical Activity in Fresh Air for Youths

More outdoor activity for children and teens may improve physical fitness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Children and teens are spending less time participating in physical activities and more time indoors in front of screens. New research shows what getting some fresh air can do for young people's health.

A recent study found that children and teenagers who spent most or all of their after-school time outdoors were more likely to get more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and spend less time sitting each day compared to children and teenagers who spent none of their after-school hours outdoors.

The researchers believe that school health policies should encourage students to do outdoor activities outside of school hours because these young people spend much of their time sitting inside during school.

"Encourage your child to get active outside after school."

The lead authors of this study were Lee Schaefer, PhD, from the Department of Education at the University of Regina in Canada, and Jonathan McGavock, PhD, from the Department of Education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

The study included 306 students between the ages of 9 and 17 years old who participated in a previous study called the Healthy Hearts Prospective Cohort Study of Physical Activity and Cardiometabolic Health in the winter and spring of the 2008-2009 academic year. A total of 58 percent of the participants were girls.

All of the students in the current study wore an accelerometer for a minimum of three days for at least eight hours per day and completed a questionnaire asking about the amount of time  they spent outdoors after school.

An accelerometer measures the intensity of physical activity.

In the questionnaire, the students reported how much time they had spent outdoors during after-school hours in the prior seven days. Their choices were none of the time, some of the time and most or all of the time.

Physical activity was split into three different categories according to the accelerometer measurements:

  • Sedentary time was defined as less than 100 counts per minute (cpm).
  • Light-intensity was defined as 100 to 1,499 cpm.
  • Moderate-to-vigorous intensity was defined as higher than 1,500 cpm.

The researchers noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends that youth get at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

The findings showed that 52 (17 percent) of the students reported spending no time outdoors after school, 134 (44 percent) of the students reported spending some time outdoors after school and 120 (39 percent) of the students reported spending most or all of their after school time outdoors.

The students who reported being active outside after school most or all of the time were more likely to be boys, younger and to have reported about their physical activity during the spring months of data collection compared to the students who were not active outside after school.

The researchers determined that the students who spent most or all of their time participating in outdoors activities after school were 2.8 times more likely to achieve the recommended daily minimum of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day than the students who reported spending no time outside after school hours.

In addition, the students who were physically active outdoors during most or all of the after-school hours spent less overall time sitting and had healthier hearts and lungs than the students who did not participate in outdoor physical activity outside of school hours.

These findings show the need for more promotion and awareness of the importance of after-school, outdoor physical activity in youth, according to the researchers.

"Schools and parents should consider structured time outdoors for children in an effort to boost physical activity levels and enhance [cardiorespiratory] fitness," Dr. Schaefer said in a press statement.

This study was published on July 10 in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The Canadian Diabetes Association, the Alberta Center for Child, Family, and Community Research, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Manitoba Health Research Council provided funding.

Review Date: 
July 10, 2014
Last Updated:
July 13, 2014