B.C. youth are more active now than they were ten years ago.
That's the finding of a report released Monday by the McCreary Centre Society, a non-government, non-profit organization committed to improving the health of B.C. youth.
"I think the report spells out the main benefits of being active," said Executive Director Annie Smith in a press release, "but it also shows we really need to provide more affordable and inclusive opportunities for young people who might not have the chance to get involved."
The report looks at the period between 1998 and 2008, and found that participation in strenuous exercise increases, as well as weekly participation in sports, dance and aerobics class.
According to the 2008 B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, a list of 149 questions completed by 29,000 students in grades 7-12, youths who participate in activity were more likely to have positive mental health, good nutritional behaviours, positive body image, were more likely to engage in preventative injury behaviours like wearing helmets and seatbelts, and were less likely to smoke, use hard drugs or misuse prescription medication.
On the flipside, a lot of young people are missing out on the benefits of an active lifestyle, including new Canadians, youth that identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual; youth who work over 20 hours a week, and those who live in poverty or have an unstable home life.
The report also found that being active does have a few health drawbacks, especially among older kids. For example, older teens involved in sports were more like to abuse alcohol and chew tobacco.
"Higher levels of binge drinking and chewing tobacco seem to go along with being heavily involved in organized sports for older youth," said Smith. "It's important for coaches and sporting superstars to act as positive role models."
Some of the reports findings include:
• Some 88 per cent of males and 81 per cent of females participated in at least one type of activity including organized sports, informal sports, dance and aerobics.
• The number of students who partake in strenuous exercise daily rose to 26 per cent in 2008 from 22 per cent in 1998.
• Rural youth were more like to take part in informal sports opportunities, like hiking and road hockey. Rural females were also more likely to be engaged in organized sports and dance/aerobics.
• 59 per cent of youth who exercised daily or almost daily ate breakfast, compared to 43 per cent of those who did not exercise. In general, youth who exercise were more likely to eat healthy foods and breakfast.
• Physical activity was associated with a lower rate of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. The more that youth participate in strenuous exercise, the higher their self-esteem scores.
The report coincides with the release of the updated national standards for exercise by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CESP).
Not without controversy, the standards now suggest that adults need a minimum of 150 minutes a week and children a minimum of 60 minutes a day to be healthy.
Critics have pointed out that the new minimums were less than the previous guidelines, which were an hour a day for adults and 90 minutes for children. However, the CSEP points out that their guidelines recommend moderate or vigorous intensity, while the previous guidelines allowed for some activities the group considers "light." In other words, people now have to exercise fewer minutes every day to be healthy but they have to up the intensity to make those minutes count.
Under the new CSEP guidelines, moderate activities for kids 5 to 11 include riding bikes and running around playgrounds, and vigorous activities include running and swimming - activities that cause children to "sweat and be out of breath."
The complete guidelines for kids 5 to 11, teens 12 to 18, adults 18 to 64 and seniors 65-plus are posted online at www.csep.ca.
The complete McCreary report is available at www.mcs.bc.ca.