Survey Shows 19-Year-Olds Are as Active as 60-Year-Olds


The level of physical activity among teens and young people in the United States has been notoriously low, but now these levels are reaching new lows.

As the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle become more well-known, it is shocking to see how activity levels have not changed for the better. Instead, it has been shown that activity levels among 19-year-olds are equal to those of 60-year-olds.

Credit: Garry Knight/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

In a recent study from the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, there has been confirmation that teens and young adults under the age of 20 have very low activity levels. These levels experience a slight improvement after the age of 20 and before the age of 35. However, after 35, the person’s activity levels are likely to drop again, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. In particular, it is surprising and alarming that adolescent activity levels have reached such a low point.

“Activity levels at the end of adolescence were alarmingly low, and by age 19, they were comparable to 60-year-olds. For school-age children, the primary window for activity was the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. So the big question is, how do we modify daily schedules, in schools for example, to be more conducive to increasing physical activity?,” said Vadim Zipunnikov, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics at John Hopkins University and senior author of the study.

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These findings were published in the journal Preventative Medicine, and show the importance of instilling active habits in early childhood and early adolescence in order to prevent a lifetime of sedentary living. Over 12,000 people participated, using activity trackers to show their daily habits and provide data to the researchers for analysis. The participants were divided into five different groups. The groups were split by age brackets, beginning with ages 6 to 11, 12 to 19, 20 to 29, 31 to 59, and 60 through 84. The participants were divided almost evenly between genders.

Among this youngest age group, more than 25 percent of the boys did not reach the recommended daily amount of exercise, and more than 50 percent of the girls also fell into this category.

At such a young age, physical activity is not taking place. This leads to less physical activity as these children age, and further contributes to the obesity epidemic that is taking place in the United States. The daily exercise recommendation by the World Health Organization is only 60 minutes per day, yet this is not happening among most children and adolescents.

Related: Children Are Already Less Active by Age 7, Study Finds

As these children and adolescents age, the level of physical activity decreases further. In fact, in the age group of teens between 12 and 19, only half of the boys and only 25 percent of the girls meet the daily exercise requirement. This leaves the majority of the teen population at startlingly low activity levels.

The only age group that showed an improved daily level of activity were those aged 20 to 29. Their activity was generally spread throughout the day, following a burst of exercise in the morning. Across all age groups, males were generally more active than females. However, in the oldest age group, females were slightly more active than their male counterparts.

Overall, activity levels among all of the age groups were lower than recommended, despite recent efforts to promote physical activity among children and youth, and the upsurge of popularity of the fitness industry. In light of these findings, it is important to encourage a physically active lifestyle more than ever, because if these trends continue, it may cause an influx of health issues down the road.