Why is Physical Activity Important?

According to Participaction, new research findings continue to highlight the pervasive link between physical activity and health among children and youth (5- to 17-year-olds). Such findings both confirm and expand upon the many well-known health benefits associated with a physically active lifestyle. For instance, recent studies demonstrate that greater physical activity levels in children and youth are associated with more beneficial scores on cardiovascular health (e.g., maximal oxygen uptake, arterial stiffness), bone health (e.g., bone strength and density), indices of adiposity (e.g., body mass index, fat mass, waist circumference), cognitive development and brain health (e.g., executive functioning, white matter microstructure), academic achievement (e.g., mathematics, overall grade point average) and health-related quality of life (e.g., physical, social and emotional functioning).

Given the increasing emphasis on mental health in today’s society, it is not surprising that emerging research has focused on the important role of physical activity in relation to children and youth’s mental health and psycho-social well-being. This research has shown that higher physical activity levels are associated with favourable dimensions of mental health including greater self-efficacy, pro-social behaviour, self-esteem and life satisfaction, and a flourishing mental state.  Higher physical activity levels are also associated with fewer mental health visits,  decreased behaviour of inattention and hyperactivity,  reduced smartphone addiction and lower odds for symptoms of depression.  A study using nationally representative data from adolescents in the United States showed that those who were physically active had significantly lower odds of having bipolar II disorder, mood disorder and general psychological distress.  It should also be noted that while most studies explore the health benefits associated with higher physical activity levels (such as those highlighted above), some studies explicitly focus on the negative consequences associated with lower physical activity levels or not meeting physical activity recommendations.  For example, children and youth who engage in insufficient physical activity have increased odds of obesity and symptoms of depression and anxiety, and those with insufficient physical activity and high sedentary behaviour have increased odds of suicide ideation and planning. Finally, in some research, physical activity has been combined with other healthy lifestyle behaviours (e.g., good sleep and diet, lower screen time) to obtain a healthy lifestyle score. This body of research has shown that a healthy lifestyle is  associated with greater health-related quality of life, fewer health complaints (e.g., headaches, irritability) and lower risk of overweight or obesity.

ParticipACTION. The Role of the Family in the Physical Activity, Sedentary and Sleep Behaviours of Children and Youth. The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2020. The 2020 Report Card and a summary of its findings (the Highlight Report) are available online at


Play, Have Fun, Enjoy Life!

Translate »