Niha Zubair, Arivale Clinical Research Scientist, PhD
When we’re in school, being physically active isn’t typically an issue – or even something we really have to think about. There’s gym class, for one, but also recess, after-school sports teams, games of tag, pickup basketball, and more. But, it’s a different story after high-school graduation, when exercise rates of young people plunge.
A study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics and covered by NPR found exercise rates are much lower for young women – especially young women of color – after high school than for young men. As a result, most young men are getting the proper amount of exercise – based on national guidelines – but most young women simply aren’t.
While many studies have looked at rates of adult physical activity, less is known about physical activity in youth, especially as they transition from youth to adulthood.
This cross-sectional data analysis looked at reports of physical activity from 9,472 people between the ages 12 and 29 across the US – analyzing them by income, race, and sex – from 2007 to 2016. Data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The goal was to examine the current patterns of physical exercise among adolescents and young adults and to identify the associations between physical activity and income, race/ethnicity, and sex.
Researchers found 88 percent of teen boys report being physically active, compared to 78 percent of teen girls. After high school, around 73 percent of young men stay active, but only 62 percent of young women do. For women of color, the drop in physical activity is greater – 70 percent to 45 percent. Add in a lower income, and the propensity toward exercise drops even further.
The study’s coauthor suggests one possible explanation is that societal barriers, such as lower incomes, are keeping young women from exercising at the same rates as their male counterparts.
Exercise is important for reducing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive and mental health, and overall mortality risk. But, it’s not just important that we exercise for our own health; we need to encourage and set an example for the young people in our lives.
The best form of exercise for you is whatever activity you’ll keep doing. Make exercise more enjoyable by doing it with a friend, in nature, or while listening to your favorite jams or podcast. If you’re new to exercise – or reintroducing it for the first time since high school – start easy and progress slowly. Do the hard work of making exercise a habit, then increase the intensity when you’re ready.
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[Arivale Hot Topics address health stories currently in the news. The Arivale Clinical Team’s commentary on these news articles is not a review of the scientific evidence, nor an endorsement of a specific study, and is not meant as official medical opinion.]