Boys hit exercise targets more than girls

Adolescent boys are almost twice as likely as their female counterparts to get the recommended one hour’s physical activity a day, according to new research.

A study by Dublin City University on more than 500 children aged between 12 and 13 years across 20 schools found just under half of boys (49%) were getting the recommended amount of daily activity compared to just 26% of girls.

The research, published in the Irish Educational Studies Journal, also found just over two thirds (67%) of girls reached the optimal target of cardiovascular fitness compared to just under half of boys (45%).

The study was led by Sarahjane Belton, Associate Professor of Physical Education at DCU. It examined physical literacy in first year students in 20 mixed gender secondary schools.

Participants were asked to wear an accelerometer, which measures movement, for nine days to gauge “moderate to vigorous physical activity”. This was defined as exercise from a brisk walk and upwards which gets the heart and lungs working harder than normal — with 60 minutes a day considered the healthy minimum for young people.

Just over a third met the target of an hour a day of sharp exercise — with 49% of males making the grade compared to 26% of girls.

The schoolchildren also had 12 fundamental movement skills such as leaping, sliding, jumping, catching and kicking tested during a regular PE class.

“Males scored significantly higher than females,” said the authors.

When they had their cardio-respiratory fitness gauged during a three-minute step test, just over a fifth or 22% of participants were classified as having ‘fair’ to ‘very poor’ cardio-respiratory fitness, while just over three quarter or 77% were found to have “good’ to ‘superior’ fitness.

The youths also completed questionnaires on their belief in their ability to succeed in specific situations, the perceived benefits of physical activity, and their motivation in PE class.

“Males scored significantly higher than females for all three measures,” said the researchers.

In terms of BMI, the study found “females recording a significantly higher BMI than males”, with 25% of youths classed as overweight.

The study said it was not surprising that the findings of the current study suggest Irish youth are performing ‘below par’ in terms of the overall domains of physical literacy.

“The suggestion is that our ‘physically literate’ child is one that would be active at a moderate to vigorous intensity for at least 60 minutes a day, would have excellent to superior cardiovascular fitness,” the researchers said.

“[They] would be able to competently perform basic fundamental movement skills, would have a strong belief in their own ability to be active, would be motivated to participate in their PE class, and would positively perceive the benefits of physical activity participation.”

They said the Wellbeing Programme introduced to the Junior Cert means PE is, for the first time, a compulsory element for all students in the first three years of post-primary education.

“Ireland is at a crossroads, where for the first time in decades dramatic changes to the direction and focus of the PE curriculum nationally are possible, change which may have a lasting impact on the physical health and wellbeing of our youth as they progress into adulthood”, said the authors.

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