Physical activity affects youth for a lifetime

By on June 21, 2010

STATE—Physical activity, good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices are the basis for a lifetime of health and wellness, said Melinda States, Extension Educator, Youth Development in Mt. Vernon, Ill.

“If all three of these aspects are balanced, the mind and body will work together to benefit the individual,” she said. “But physical activity seems to be the most difficult to include in our daily lives.”

Physical activity is important for people of all ages, States said.

“It helps to control weight, build muscle strength, develop aerobic fitness, increase bone mass, reduce stress and build self-esteem. Young people should get 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on most days. When broken into 15-30 minute increments, 60 minutes of physical activity can be easily achieved by most children and teens,” she said.

Being active helps a person relax and feel better. Breathing deeply during exercise brings more oxygen into the lungs. This provides more oxygen to the brain, which in turn improves thinking skills. There are three types of physical activity: aerobic, strength training, and flexibility and balance.

“Aerobic activity not only builds heart and lung capacity, but also burns calories and builds stamina,” States said. “Some kind of aerobic activity is recommended two to three times per week for 20-30 minutes at a time.”

Examples of aerobic activity include bicycling, swimming, competitive sports, jump rope or walking at a brisk pace.

Strength training is also known as weight-bearing exercise, which helps to build strong bones and muscles.

“Stronger muscles help protect the body from injury and give better support to the body’s joints,” States said. “Rope climbing, pull-ups, push-ups, running, and playground activity are all great ways to strength train.”

Finally, States said, flexibility and balance exercise reduces the risk of injury and should be included into every physical activity.

“As people age, they tend to get less flexible. Thus, it is important for children and teens to improve their flexibility now and maintain it as they age. Flexibility guards against sprained and strained muscles. Flexibility and balance activities may be used as warm-up or cool-down movements,” States said. “Good examples of flexibility and balance exercise include yoga, stretching, gymnastics, dance and martial arts.”

Children who enjoy a well-balanced diet and participate in physical activity are more likely to be active participants in the classroom and achieve higher standard test scores.

“Unfortunately in today’s society, many youth are involved in sedentary activities, which require little physical exertion,” States said. “Physical activity does not need to be boring. Find activities that you enjoy either by yourself or with friends, vary the activities so you don’t get into a rut, and enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle.”

4-H is the largest out-of-school education youth program in the United States. 4-H seeks to assist youth in acquiring knowledge, forming attitudes and developing life skills that enable them to become caring, competent and contributing members of society. In Illinois over 268,000 youth participate in University of Illinois Extension 4-H clubs and programs. More than 23,600 adult volunteers assist in programming for the youth. For more information about 4-H in Illinois, visit