Parenting: teens

Hong Kong kids’ lack of exercise could be hurting their grades, study finding suggests

Exercise boosts children’s academic prowess – that’s the consensus view of world experts, published in a leading medical journal. Yet most Hong Kong children don’t meet the minimum recommended daily exercise target

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 6:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 June, 2016, 6:34am

Hong Kong children’s lack of physical activity could be harming more than just their health – it could also be affecting their grades. Exercise boosts kids’ and young people’s brain power and academic prowess, according to a new consensus statement from an international panel published in a leading medical journal.

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Further, time taken away from lessons for physical activity is time well spent and does not come at the cost of getting good grades, say the 24 experts who drew up the statement that appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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The panel, which included experts from the UK, Scandinavia, and North America with a wide range of specialisms, gathered at the Copenhagen Consensus Conference in Snekkersten, Denmark, in April this year to reach an evidence-based consensus about physical activity in children aged between six and 18.

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The consensus includes 21 separate statements on the four themes related to physical activity: fitness and health; intellectual performance; engagement, motivation and well-being; and social inclusion. Both structured and unstructured forms of physical activity in school and during leisure time are covered.

More than three in four Hong Kong children exercise for fewer than 60 minutes daily – the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation for children aged five to 17 - according to a recent survey by Hong Kong Baptist University’s Centre for the Advancement of Social Sciences Research. Seven per cent of children did not exercise at all outside of physical education classes.

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Cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness “are strong predictors” of the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes in later life, and vigorous exercise in childhood helps to keep these risk factors in check, the consensus statement says. Frequent moderate-intensity exercise and, to a lesser extent, low-intensity exercise will still help improve children’s heart health and their metabolism, while physical activity is a key component of the treatment of many long-term medical conditions in six- to 18-year-olds, the scientists’ statement says.

The positive effects of exercise go beyond physical health, the experts say. Regular physical activity can help develop important life skills, and boost self-esteem, motivation, confidence and well-being. It can foster and strengthen relationships with peers, parents, and coaches. And activities that take account of culture and context can promote social inclusion for those from different backgrounds and ethnicities, and those with different sexual orientation, skill levels and physical capacity.

Incorporating physical activity into every aspect of school life and providing protected public spaces, such as cycle lanes, parks and playgrounds “are both effective strategies for providing equitable access to, and enhancing physical activity for, children and youth”, the statement says.

Five ways physical activity helps children’s cognitive functioning, according to the statement:

1. Physical activity and cardio-respiratory fitness are good for children’s and young people’s brain development and function, and for their intellect.

2. A session of physical activity before, during, and after school boosts academic prowess

3. A single session of moderately energetic physical activity has immediate positive effects on brain function, intellect, and academic performance.

4. Mastery of basic movement boosts brain power and academic performance.

5. Time taken away from lessons in favour of physical activity does not come at the cost of getting good grades.