In the UK, children’s physical activity shows seasonal variation. Activity levels are lower in autumn and winter, with more pronounced variation at the weekend, and in boys. Day length and weather conditions are the likely drivers of these patterns, but the effects vary by age.
Although we cannot change the weather or hours of light, interventions may be possible – for instance support at school for physical activity in wet weather.
Consistent with previous research, children were more active in spring and summer than autumn and winter. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA – i.e. that which requires a substantial amount of effort and noticeably increases the heart rate) was lower in both autumn and winter when compared to spring.
Average activity levels across the group peaked in April at 65.3 min/day and dropped to their lowest levels in February at 47.8 min/day.
The weekend effect: children’s weekend activity was more susceptible to seasonal influence than weekday activity. Physical activity was at its lowest at weekends during winter, and highest during weekends in early summer.
Gender differences: whilst boys were more active than girls throughout the year, boys’ activity varied more with the seasons than girls’ activity.
As might be expected, activity levels are lowest when the weather is colder and wetter. Wet weather in particular is often given as a barrier to being active by children and adults.
In younger children, participation in MVPA declined significantly with increased rainfall.
Wet weather at any time of the year is associated with reduced activity levels – not just when it is colder.
Children respond differently to the weather at different ages:
On the wettest days, 9-10 year olds did 14 fewer minutes of MVPA than on dry days.
The 13-14 year olds in our sample were less active overall, but their time spent in MVPA was not significantly affected by wet weather.