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The health benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents: implications for chronic disease prevention


Clinical, epidemiological and basic research evidence clearly supports the inclusion of regular physical activity as a tool for the prevention of chronic disease and the enhancement of overall health. In children, activities of a moderate intensity may enhance overall health, and assist in preventing chronic disease in at-risk youth. The numerous health benefits of regular exercise are dependent on the type, intensity and volume of activity pursued by the individual. These benefits include reduction of low density lipoproteins while increasing high density lipoprotein; improvement of glucose metabolism in patients with type II diabetes; improved strength, self esteem and body image; and reduction in the occurrence of back injuries. In addition, a progressive, moderate-intensity exercise program will not adversely effect the immune system and may have a beneficial effect on the interleukin-2/natural killer cell system. Furthermore, by decreasing sedentary behaviors and, thus, increasing daily physical activity, individuals may experience many stress-reducing benefits, which may enhance the immune system.

Conclusion Moderate intensity exercise of a non-structured nature seems to facilitate most of the disease prevention goals and health promoting benefits. With new guidelines promoting a less intense and more time-efficient approach to regular physical activity, it is hoped that an upward trend in the physical activity patterns, and specifically children at risk for chronic disease, will develop in the near future.

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Received: 25 November 1998 / Accepted: 25 November 1998

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Sothern, M., Loftin, M., Suskind, R. et al. The health benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents: implications for chronic disease prevention. Eur J Pediatr 158, 271–274 (1999).

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  • Key words Exercise
  • Physical activity
  • Childhood