Exercise in Middle Childhood
A subcategory of physical activity is exercise. The most distinguishable characteristics of exercise are that it is planned, structured, repetitive, purposeful, and requires moderate to high levels of activity (Livingstone, Robson, Wallace, & McKinley, 2003). The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has issued specific activity guidelines for elementary school-age children. NASPE recommends that children engage in some form of moderate to high physical activity (i.e., exercise) for 30 to 60 minutes almost every day of the week (Corbin & Pangrazi, 2000). Children who meet or exceed these minimums have stronger and healthier cardiovascular systems, lower blood pressure, more favorable blood lipid profiles, stronger bones, and less body fat (Witzke & Snow, 2000).
Despite these well-supported health benefits, less than 50% of children and adolescents meet these minimal standards (NASPE, 1998). In addition, a significantly smaller proportion of girls than boys exercise sufficiently (Stone, McKenzie, Welk, & Booth, 1998). School-age children who do not meet the minimum activity goals are at higher risk for becoming overweight, experiencing elevated blood pressure, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (i.e., diabetes mellitus), or having one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis. Studies have also shown that when these health risk factors are identified in middle childhood they tend to carry over into adolescence and adulthood (Li et al., 2003; McGill & McMahan, 2003).
Clearly, finding ways to increase children’s daily and weekly exercise opportunities should become a priority for parents, teachers, and practitioners. Conferences such as the one sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People (1997), suggest focusing on the infrastructures in schools and communities to promote healthy physical activity patterns. Intervention programs that target children, their schools, and communities have been successful in increasing children’s level of exercise in school but have been less successful with influencing exercise outside of school (Sallis et al., 1997).
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