University of Georgia researchers found that 75% of teens don’t meet daily exercise requirements. The research revealed that female students participated in physical activity less often than males. The result? A decrease in general wellness heightened anxiety and more.
However, the research team theorized that improvements in school environments could help students get more daily exercise. A positive school climate can encourage students to adopt healthy behaviors. These include following a nutritious diet and engaging in regular activity, said lead study author Janani R. Thapa.
“The length of recess, physical facilities, and social environments at schools have been found to affect physical activity among students,” said Thapa, an associate professor of health policy and management at UGA’s College of Public Health.
Because of this study, the state of Georgia enacted policies and programs to increase daily exercise in K-12 schools. Thapa serves as one of the lead evaluators of these programs.
“Over time, the state has observed declining levels of physical activity among all adolescents, but the rate is higher among female middle and high school students,” she said.
Thapa believed that a healthy school environment would encourage students to become more active in sports. She suggested that the more confident they feel, the more daily exercise they would get at school. The school climate includes safety, bullying, and social support.
If students feel included and accepted by peers, they’re more likely to participate in regular physical activity. However, before this study, researchers didn’t realize the effect that school climate had on students’ daily exercise.
“We do not know much about the role of school climate on physical activity,” said Thapa. “There must have been barriers that were faced by certain groups of students. Hence, we wanted to investigate the difference by gender.”
What the Study Found About Teens’ Daily Exercise Habits
The research team compiled data from a statewide survey including over 360,000 Georgia high school students. The survey consisted of questions regarding daily exercise habits and school climate. Using this data, Thapa and her colleagues tested the relationship between school environment and physical activity.
The data measured school climate by eight factors:
- school connectedness
- adult social support
- peer social support
- physical environment
- school support environment
- school safety
- cultural acceptance
- peer victimization (bullying)
The survey revealed that female students received less daily exercise than males. Only 35% of females reported being active compared to 57% of males. Physical activity decreased dramatically for male and female students in the 9-12th grade.
However, students of both genders participated in daily exercise more often in a positive school environment. Researchers noted that bullying had a particularly pronounced effect on physical activity levels.
Female students who reported instances of bullying received more daily exercise. However, male students who experienced bullying didn’t engage in as much physical activity. Bullying stood out to the research team since it impacted male and female students differently. Other measures of school climate showed more significant similarities among both genders.
The authors believe the disparity regarding bullying may exist because of masculine and feminine stereotypes. Regarding exercise, highly active females and less active males stand out more.
“For example, female students who are active in sports and physically active may not fit the gender norm and hence may face bullying,” said Thapa.
The findings suggest that school districts should improve school environments to increase daily exercise among students. For instance, they could focus on promoting student safety and acceptance while bolstering exercise programs. Students who feel safe and comfortable at school will find physical activity more appealing.
Daily Exercise Can Reduce Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts in Teens
Exercise doesn’t just help teens improve their physical health. Studies show that regular physical activity can give their mental health a boost as well. With more teens than ever experiencing anxiety, researchers have been searching for a remedy. They have found that lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and practicing mindfulness can lower stress.
In fact, one study by University of Vermont researchers found that bullied teens who exercised regularly had better mental health. The findings showed that teenage suicide attempts decreased by 23% with at least four days of physical activity per week.
“I was surprised that it was that significant and that positive effects of exercise extended to kids actually trying to harm themselves,” said lead author Jeremy Sibold, associate professor and chair of the Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Science.
“Even if one kid is protected because we got them involved in an after-school activity or in a physical education program it’s worth it.”
However, students can also benefit from other forms of daily exercise. Some students who don’t enjoy sports may prefer solitary workouts like yoga or Tai Chi. Studies have found that mindfulness exercises can lower stress hormone levels and promote mental wellness.
One study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics confirmed these findings. It revealed that yoga classes could improve mood and lower anxiety in high school students. Yoga can also have beneficial psychological impacts on children, helping to foster resilience and enhance emotional regulation.
The World Health Organization recommends that adolescents engage in moderate to vigorous exercise for at least one hour per day. Unfortunately, the study above shows that most teens don’t meet these requirements.
Many schools have phased out physical education programs and placed more emphasis on academics. However, daily exercise would help improve academic performance and increase well-being among children and adolescents. Perhaps school districts should mandate physical activity again due to overwhelming evidence of its benefits.
Final Thoughts on Study Showing Most Teens Don’t Get Enough Exercise
A recent study by the University of Georgia discovered an alarming fact about teen physical fitness. About 75% of teenagers don’t meet daily exercise requirements for several reasons. Many schools have eliminated physical education classes and focused more on bolstering curriculums.
However, children and teens today have worse mental health and anxiety due to sedentary lifestyles. The study found that creating a positive school environment while promoting physical activity could reverse this trend. Teenagers should have an opportunity to learn various subjects, but not at the expense of their physical health.