Activity in children falls off around 7 years of age suggests a study in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Teenage years were long thought to be the time children go off exercise but research has found it happens much sooner.

Children should get at least an hour of exercise a day. Many of the 400 children studied did far less than this as they got older. Research shows that sitting is replacing physical activity from the time children start school.

Most boys and girls in the study did moderate levels of exercise at seven, which then gradually tailed off. The research was carried out over eight years. Experts tracked activity levels of children from Gateshead using monitors worn for a week at a time.

Drop off in activity

The amount of exercise the children did was measured for the first time at age seven. It was then measured again at age nine, 12 and 15.

Boys spent an average of 75 minutes a day exercising when they were seven. Activity fell to 51 minutes when they were 15 years old. The average girl spent 63 minutes per day doing moderate to strenuous physical activity at seven years old. This dropped to 41 minutes by the time girls are aged 15.

The study cannot prove what causes the reduction in physical activity but experts say “something is going wrong in British children” long before adolescence. Study author Professor John Reilly said the drop off coincided with the peak rate of obesity cases in children and the greatest increases in weight gain. These happen around the age of seven.

Sitting instead of playing

Different research on the same group of children found that time lost to exercise was spent sitting instead. Children aged seven spent half their day sitting. By the age of 15 this had increased to three-quarters of their day.

“Activity tails off from around the time of going to school, when there’s a change in lifestyle,” Prof Reilly said. According to the report schools should be more active environments. Long periods of sitting should be broken up with physical activity.

Exercise outside school just as important

The study emphasised that activities outside education also had an important role to play because children only spend half of their year at school. Eustace de Sousa at Public Health England said: “It’s a major concern that one in five children leaves primary school obese.”

“Most children don’t do enough physical activity. This has consequences for their health now and in the future,” he said.

You can read the full report from The British Journal of Sports Medicine here:


NHS Choices recommends children and young people cut back on watching TV, playing computer games and travelling by car. Doing the school run on foot, playing in the park and walking the dog are all easy ways to get active.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way of getting children and young people moving. A 2013 study in The Journal of Physiology found it has similar or better benefits than regular endurance training but in a shorter period of time. Check out the Body Coach channel on YouTube for loads of free HIIT workouts suitable for all ages and fitness levels:

We also have our own fantastic HIIT marking which is proving a big hit (pun intended) around the UK. Please call the office on 01535 656500 or email for details.


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