Physical Inactivity in Youth – It starts younger than you think!

The statistics are frightening for the future health of our young people. While schools are fretting over academic achievement to increase brain power, physical inactivity in youth is on the rise.

Think about your average elementary school students 30 years ago – many walked to school, had outdoor recess 2-3 times per day, walked home and played outside until dinner. Now consider our current elementary school students – take a bus to school, maybe get recess one time per day, maybe an after-school activity and then screen time until dinner.

This change of physical inactivity in youth is starting younger than researchers previously thought.

Research on Physical Inactivity in Youth

Researchers were already aware that physical inactivity in youth begins to increase during childhood and adolescence. A recent study took a closer look at the physical activity and sedentary behavior of 600 children who wore physical activity trackers at the ages of 6, 8, and 11 years, resulting in 1254 observations.

Following data analysis on the tracking of physical inactivity in youth the following was determined:

  • total physical activity revealed a significant decline with age resulting in a change of total physical activity of a decrease in 75.3 minutes per day from 6 to 11 years.
  • light physical activity declined by 44.6 minutes per day.
  • moderate to vigorous physical activity declined by an overall 30.7 minutes.
  • sedentary behavior increased significantly with an increase of 107 minutes.
  • boys showed a steeper decline in both light and moderate to vigorous physical activity than girls.
  • higher fat mass index and BMI z scores were associated with lower levels of total physical activity, moderate to vigorous physical activity and higher levels of sedentary behavior.
  • increased sedentary behavior was measured during school hours.
  • there was a distinct decline in physical activity on weekends, out-of-school days, and during lunchtime.

Conclusion on Physical Inactivity in Youth

The researchers concluded that physical activity decreased, and sedentary behavior in children increased in earlier years than previously thought. Specifically, moderate to vigorous physical activity remained relatively stable until 8 years, but revealed a drop-off at 11 years. This age range of 8-11 years old is a critical period to intervene to help prevent this decline in physical activity in children.

Why is it so important to intervene at a younger age? Physical activity shows a consistent decline as we get older. If we start children at a higher level of physical activity to overall result will be great physical activity as adults which benefits overall physical and mental health.


Schwarzfischer, P., Gruszfeld, D., Stolarczyk, A., Ferre, N., Escribano, J., Rousseaux, D., … & Grote, V. (2019). Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior From 6 to 11 Years. Pediatrics143(1), e20180994.

5 Resources to Help Decrease Sedentary Behavior in the Classroom

Here are some resources that encourage movement and learning:

  1.  The ABC’s of Movement®- Combine Movement with Literacy  – The ABC’s of Movement® is a pdf document of educational flash cards that combine movement with literacy development. Kids love these colorful flash cards that merge learning the alphabet with twenty six fun, noncompetitive movement activities. Designed for children of all abilities from preschool through 2nd grade, these flash cards were developed by a physical therapist with learning and physical development in mind. Ideal for home and school use. These bright, bold letters and full-color photographs of children make learning easy and fun!
  2. Movement Flashcards – Movement Flashcards digital download includes 10 aerobic exercises with flashcards templates. Students can get physical activity while reviewing material. The 10 aerobic activities include: run in place, jumping, hopping, squats, lunges, skipping, twists, cross crawls, jumping jacks and marching. Each page includes a picture image of the aerobic exercise along with a blank template to type in 18 flashcards. You choose what to work on for academic material.
  3. The ABC’s of Active Learning – Exploring educational concepts through movement and multiple senses give children opportunities to learn in ways they understand. The alphabet activities from A to Z are a collection of activities that can be used with children of all abilities.
  4. Mini Movement Breaks – This download is a collection of 60+ quick sensory-motor activity cards.  The mini-movement breaks are quick and require no equipment.  The movement breaks can be done indoors.   Most of the movement breaks can be done with one child or a group of children.  It does not get any easier than this to encourage sensory motor activities in the classroom or home. 
  5. Classroom Activity Postersdownload is a collection of 16 exercise activities, 4 large posters and a brief, simple video demonstration of each exercise. The posters are divided into four groups: posture, alerting, ready to work and focus/balance.  All of the exercises are performed in standing.  Try these activities prior to starting fine motor activities, for posture breaks, to refocus students attention and for vestibular/ proprioceptive input in the classroom.