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Physical Education and leisure-time physical activity in youth are both important for adulthood activity, physical performance and health

Commentary: Trevor Shilton, Co-Director GlobalPANet/AusPAnet, National Heart Foundation of Australia

Authors: Eilin Ekblom-Bak, Orjan Ekbolm, Gunnar Andersson, Petr Wallin, Bjorn Ekbolm.     

School-based physical education and out-of-school physical activity programs are recognised and promoted as good practice by international authorities such as the WHO and International Society for Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH).  However few studies have examined the longer term benefits of such programs for adult health and fitness. 

This study examined data from first time health profile assessment (HPA) of 258,146 Swedish adults between 1982 and 2015. Participants provided self-reported data on current perceived health, PA, lifestyle, physical education participation and PA outside school hours before age 20.  Anthropometric data, blood pressure and estimated maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) was also collected. 

Findings indicated women participating in PE Classes had significantly lower odds ratio (OR) (range 0.81-0.87) for perceiving poor overall health, obesity, and high diastolic blood pressure. Women also had increased OR (1.17-1.23) for exercising regularly and a normal/high (VO2max). For men results were similar for perceiving poor overall health, obesity, and high diastolic blood pressure. The results for increased PA outside school revealed even more impressive results. Joint analysis revealed both youth and current PA were important for lower OR of poor health and obesity in adulthood. 

Strengths of the study include its large numbers, standardised methods and a long period of time for data collection providing information on tracking. Limitations include lack of information on quantitative or qualitative description of the intensity, duration and type of PE and PA experiences in participants. Self-reported recall may also be biased due to the long period of time involved. 

These are important findings, demonstrating important positive results for perceived health, PA, VO2max and metabolic health for those who participated in PE Classes and additional PA after school.  This information can assist advocates for PE and PA in young people in making the argument for increased focus on PE and out-of-school PA in policy and programs. 

Source: Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2018, 15, 661-670.   

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