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Lifetime Physical Activity Trends

What does a 19-year-old have in common with a 60-year-old? Both achieve about the same amount of weekly activity, according to new research.

This information comes from a study of 12,529 individuals aged 6–85 who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The researchers’ primary goal was to analyze lifetime physical activity (PA) changes via accelerometer data—and their conclusions are disheartening. Here are some key points from the report:

  • PA levels peak around age 6 and continue to decline into early adulthood.
  • PA levels at age 19 mirror levels at age 60.
  • PA sees an increase at age 20 and begins to decline around age 35.
  • Older males are less physically active than older females.

In an article published in the July 27 issue of the Chicago Tribune, lead researcher Vijay Varma offered suggestions as to why activity levels fluctuate. He proposed that young children become inactive because of school, while higher activity levels in early adulthood might be due to life changes like finishing college or starting a new job. The subsequent and lasting plateaus (in the mid-30s) could result from settling into routines once those life changes have been made, he said.

This information could be useful in developing interventions to improve PA levels, suggested Varma and his team: “Our results suggest a re-evaluation of how emerging adulthood may affect PA levels and the importance of considering time of day and sex differences when developing PA interventions.”

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