Recent data from Statistics Canada shows that 85% of Canadian adults don’t get enough exercise. Exercising regularly can prevent one in five premature deaths, and for this reason, physical inactivity has become one of the most urgent public health issues.
Matthew Kwan, John Cairney, Guy Faulkner, and Eleanor Pullenayegum published a paper this month studying the decrease in physical activity among young adults. Their study is the first long-term study to examine physical activity habits and other health-related behaviours during the transition from adolescence to early adulthood.
The authors found that physical activity plummeted between high school and postsecondary school. They suggest that it is at this stage that physical activity habits must be strengthened.
Kwan and his colleagues wrote that other detrimental behaviours include smoking and binge drinking increase at this point in a person’s life; however, these habits are better publicized and targeted for improvement. In fact, in the quest to bring more public awareness to the risks of smoking and binge drinking, educators have pushed aside the issue of physical inactivity.
Kwan and his colleagues studied over 200 adolescents initially aged 12 to 15 over a 12-year period, interviewing them every two years. They measured the amount of time each person spent exercising, along with the intensity of the workout. They also asked the participants if they had partaken in binge drinking over the past year. Binge drinking is classified as five or more drinks on a single occasion. Finally, they asked the participants if they were smokers.
Participation in physical activity decreased by 24% across the 12-year period. The authors found that men’s physical activity decreased much more than women’s did, but this may be accounted for by the fact that women had already been less active in high school. They suggest that girls may experience their greatest decrease in exercise in their early teen years.
The authors also found that as their subjects entered their late 20s, binge drinking and smoking decreased again, but exercise did not increase. They suggest that more emphasis must be placed on preventing a decline in physical activity, especially for men, and increasing activity in women. Binge drinking and smoking seem to naturally decline as young adults mature, but physical activity does not go back up. Good exercising habits need to be intentionally maintained.