Not Enough Exercise?

Team sports are good for you and great fun. But new research shows that the exercise boost from such activities is nowhere near what it needs to be.

Jan 28, 2011 | By Bonnie Rochman for TIME

Government guidelines suggest that children and teens should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. But less than half of children and just 10% of teens meet these guidelines. What's the deal?

An estimated 44 million U.S. kids participate in organized sports (think baseball, softball and soccer). But a new study says just one-quarter of kids get the government-recommended amount of exercise when they show up for team practices. The study, published online last month in a medical journal, says younger kids and boys do better than tweens, teens and girls.

The study looked at 200 kids ages 7 to 14 who played on 29 soccer, baseball and softball teams. The kids wore sensors to measure their activity during practices.

During each practice, kids averaged 30 minutes of downtime. "It is not clear how much physical activity is provided by youth sports practices," say the California-based authors of the study. "Much of the time may be inactive, such as receiving verbal instruction and waiting for turns."

Don't Just Sit There!

What's a parent or coach—or kid—to do? The authors of the study suggest increasing the number of practices, extending short playing seasons and changing it up during practices. For example, the coach could give each player a ball at the same time. Rather than focusing on one player's skills, it's best to get the whole team moving.

But, the study says, the bottom line is that team sports aren't enough exercise. For a child to meet the U.S. physical activity guidelines, the typical kid will have to do more than just join a team. Exercise is also necessary during recess, during physical education class, after school and even on the way to school.