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Children's Daily Exercise Should Include 12,000 Steps: Study

04/30/2012 03:48 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Counting the clicks on a pedometer can help parents ensure that kids are meeting their daily physical activity targets, a new Canadian-led study suggests.

Kids should accumulate about 12,000 steps a day to maintain healthy physical activity levels, according to research from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute. The step-count figure includes the 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended daily for Canadian children and teens, said study lead author Rachel Colley.

Moderate physical activities include brisk walking, skating and bike riding, while playing basketball, soccer, running and swimming are examples of vigorous activities, according to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

While most people are used to the idea that adults should take about 10,000 steps a day, a similar target for children was undetermined, said Colley, a junior research scientist at the CHEO Research Institute.

Given that kids tend to need more activity and are more active by nature, researchers did know the figure should probably be higher than that of adults, she added.

"For quite some time, we were using a value of 13,500 steps per day, but it didn't have a lot of evidence behind it," Colley said in an interview on Monday.

"That was the sort of background of why we felt this study would be important — so that we would have a better target to give to people for children."

Drawing on data from Statistics Canada's Canadian Health Measures Survey collected from 2007 to 2009, researchers looked at a sample of 1,613 children and youth aged six to 19.

Colley said the kids wore accelerometers capable of measuring how much physical activity they were getting as well as their step counts. They were all monitored for a week-long period but at different times during the year.

Analysis of different age groups and gender was conducted looking at how the number of activity minutes measured predicted step count. Researchers then determined a value of the number of steps active kids were getting in a day.

"We looked at that range and it was pretty close to 12,000 for most kids," she said.

Colley said the pedometer and corresponding step count target provide an objective measure of daily activity.

"It's easy enough to report, as you say, 60 minutes of a sports game, but it's really hard to sort of capture the activity that we get across the whole day... whether it's kids walking to and from school, or just walking around at recess or playing a bit at recess," she said.

"They're accumulating little bits of steps throughout the day, and that's really hard for people to remember, really hard for parents to report on a questionnaire."

Colley said some research suggests that people accumulate about 7,500 steps daily with no organized physical activity. The suggested 60 minutes of daily physical activity adds another couple of thousand steps to bring the step-count figure to 12,000, she added.

Colley said another reason for publishing the paper is due to the wide availability and accessibility of pedometers to the public.

"Kids are pretty used to seeing them now, and even teachers use them in school sometimes. The whole concept of pedometers is becoming more mainstream, " she said.

"Having a target that's out there for the public to use, I think, is one of the main goals of this paper. We now have this number 12,000 steps per day that kids should be striving for."

The findings were published in the May edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.