Category: Physical Activity

Physical Activity in School-Aged Children

School-aged children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity every day of the week. Only 26% of adolescents met these physical activity guidelines in 2018, and that percentage has remained stable since 2011. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult for children to meet these guidelines. At the start of the pandemic, my son switched to online school, and the community park was blocked off with bright-yellow caution tape. Despite knowing the risk of sedentary behavior and decreased physical activity, we found our kids were less likely to engage in free play without friends, parks and school. 

The rate of increase in body mass index (BMI) in children 2-19 years of age nearly doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to pre-pandemic rates. This faster increase in BMI was most pronounced in children who were already overweight, and in younger school-aged children. The number of children and teens classified as obese increased from 19% pre-pandemic to 22% at the time of publication. 

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, sports, after-school programs and community parks. In addition to disruptions in physical activity opportunities, there was also loss of income, increased food insecurity, increased stress and increased screen time. Despite the return of school and community-based programs, sports participation has not rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels. BMI changes during the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the importance schools play in the health of our children and the community. 

Activity Guidelines for School-Age Children InfographicPhysically active children have lower rates of obesity in childhood, and a lower risk of obesity and chronic medical conditions in adulthood. In addition, higher levels of physical activity improve cognition, executive function, attention and academic performance. Increasing physical activity in schools through daily recess, physically active classroom lessons, longer or more frequent physical education classes and before- and after-school activities helps children reach physical activity guidelines and build the foundation of a healthy lifestyle into adulthood 

Fortunately, 93 of the 100 largest U.S. cities (listed in the ACSM American Fitness Index®) are located in states that require physical education* in elementary, middle and high school. This ensures millions of children learn how to be physically active for a lifetime. Families should also be encouraged to stay active as a family, provide opportunities for free play, participate in active transportation and limit screen time. My kids were happier, slept better and were more engaged when the parks opened back up, they went back to school and they had much less computer time. 

The extra time needed to increase physical activity both in school and after school is easily made up for with improved concentration, attention span and academic performance. Utilizing school-based physical activity programs has never been more important!

Download the infographic. 

Author: Jessie Fudge, M.D., FACSM, Kaiser Permanente Washington 

*The Fitness Index’s physical education indicator is based on state-level policies requiring a minimum amount of physical education for all schools in the state. Policies are coded 0-3 depending on the amount of physical education required. States requiring physical education at all three grade levels (elementary, middle, and high school) are given the highest score. Two states represented in the Fitness Index were coded zero for having no state policy requiring physical education: Colorado and Hawaii. 

Celebrate Community Parks

Parks are incredibly versatile, fun areas for everyone in a community. They’re perfect for children who want to play on a playground, family or friends who want to have a picnic, or dog owners who want to take their pets on a walk. Besides being a fun location for residents, parks indicate a lot about a community.

The ACSM American Fitness Index considers a lot of factors when evaluating health and fitness, and the different implications of community parks are one of the areas considered by the rankings.

What parks say about a community:

Park-related expenditures How much a community spends on creating and maintaining parks suggests how dedicated that community is to providing safe and affordable places for its residents to be physically active.
Parkland as a percent of the community land area The amount of parks in comparison to the total land area of the community indicates whether or not there is a safe and affordable place conveniently located for residents of the community.
Percent of community that are within a 10 minute walk to a park
Number of dog parks in a community Dog parks are a specific type of park that suggest dog owners are walking with their dogs, a good source of fitness.

Parks are an extremely valuable asset for a community, and they should be considered with importance.

Need help improving parks?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Park Service (NPS) created a new tool to assist communities with parks. The Parks, Trails, and Health Workbook: A Tool for Planners, Parks and Recreational Professionals, and Health Practitioners is a guide to assist in the development and improvement of parks.

This tool emphasizes the health benefits of parks and includes five sections: community health profile, site information, site planning, park and trail system planning, and monitoring and evaluation.

Whether you are interested in learning more about parks and their implications regarding public health or you are an official involved in maintaining or developing parks, this tool is of great use to you. Even if you are just a regular park-goer, it is to your benefit to be knowledgeable of the parks in your community.

Next time you visit the park in your neighborhood, think about what it brings to your community.

Rethinking Walking

Walking is a simple and easy way to add physical activity to daily schedules and since it’s free, it’s available to everybody. Since the first edition of the ACSM American Fitness Index® data report, ACSM has recognized the importance of walking for a healthy lifestyle.

While the Fitness Index has always taken the number of people who walk to work as part of its methodology, it hasn’t considered walking trips to amenities such as grocery stores, shops and school.

New Walk Score® Ranking Indicator

For the latest edition of the data report, ACSM added a new walking indicator: Walk Score® rankings. Walk Score uses a point-based system to measure the walkability of a neighborhood.

Multiple studies show that people living in walkable neighborhoods and cities are more likely to reach the recommended amount of physical activity because they can travel by foot to work, shop, eat, play or pray.

Most Walkable Cities

According to the latest report from Walk Score, the top five cities for walking are:

1. New York
2. San Francisco
3. Boston
4. Philadelphia
5. Miami

Washington D.C., which finished first in the 2014 data report, has the seventh best Walk Score ranking. Learn your neighborhood’s Walk Score® ranking at

Every Body Walk!

ACSM is also working with Kaiser Permanente to drive awareness of the Every Body Walk! 30 Minutes to Better Health initiative to clinicians and other health professionals. Every Body Walk! is a campaign aimed at getting more Americans up and moving. To learn more visit


July is National Park and Recreation Month!

Since 1985, America has celebrated July as the nation’s official Park and Recreation Month. The American Fitness Index recognizes the importance of community parks and recreational areas and the role they play as a contributing environmental indicator for better health and physical activity.


A study conducted for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) found that 3 in 10 U.S. adults do not spend time outdoors on a daily basis. NRPA wants to break that trend with their OUT is IN campaign. The program emphasizes how parks and recreation services are vital assets for our communities in battling the obesity epidemic and chronic disease.

Get out there and play!

Taking advantage of your local public park is a simple and economical way to improve your physical fitness. Parks offer children and adults an opportunity to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity during their visit.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having access to parks and playgrounds can initiate other healthy lifestyle choices.

What are some other ways parks can promote health?

Want to see first hand what parks and recreation can do to benefit your health? The Trust for Public Land created this fun video on how your local park makes an impact on your health and the health of your community.