Researchers analyzed 50 studies on running fitness involving 25 million children from age nine to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010. The study measured how fast children could run in five to 15 minutes and how far. Results revealed that today’s children are about 15% less fit than their parents.
Here’s a few of the findings:
- In a mile run – children today are about a minute and a half slower than their peers 30 years ago.
- Children today are roughly 15 percent less fit from a cardiovascular standpoint than their parents were as children.
- Children’s cardiovascular endurance fell an average of six percent in the United States per decade between 1970 and 2000.
- Children’s endurance has declined consistently by about five percent every decade across many nations.
The study is the first to show that children’s fitness has declined worldwide over the last three decades and the decline in running fitness may indicate worse health in adulthood. Only one-third of American children today get the recommended 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day for children ages six and up.
“If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life,” Tomkinson said. “Young people can be fit in different ways. They can be strong like a weightlifter, or flexible like a gymnast, or skillful like a tennis player. But not all of these types of fitness relate well to health. The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time, like running multiple laps around an oval track.”
While the decline in fitness appears to be leveling off in Australia, Europe, and New Zealand – as well as in North America in the last few years – it is continuing to fall in China where annual fitness test data reveals that the country’s students have become slower and fatter over the past several decades. Interestingly, Japan has never had much falloff where fitness remains fairly consistent.
“Declines in cardiovascular endurance performance are probably caused by social, behavioral, physical, psychosocial and physiological factors,” Tomkinson added. “Kids should engage in at least 60 minutes of daily activities that use the body’s big muscles, such as running, swimming or cycling. We need to help inspire children and youth to develop fitness habits that will keep them healthy now and into the future. They need to choose a range of physical activities they like or think they might like to try and they need to get moving.”