Last year the Public Health in England said six million middle-aged adults in the country took less than 10 minutes brisk exercise a month, risking their health.
In 2016 an international study portrayed British children as among the least active in the world. And despite government guidelines urging parents to ensure their offspring do at least an hour of moderate-intensity exercise every day, compared with 38 other nations including Venezuela and Slovenia, England and Wales are currently third-worst in the list with Scotland at the bottom. Only 22 per cent of boys aged 11 to 15 manage the recommended amounts of daily exercise and just 15pc of girls.
The reason this topic came to mind, is because I am currently in Scotland and I find that I do more walking here than I would normally do back home. Why? Well generally because the weather allows me to.
So I am quite surprised that children in the UK don’t do much physical activity and it is alarming to read that statistics suggest that by 2050 more than 50pc of the UK will be obese!
Denmark and Sweden, which have long been interested in the link between childhood physical activity and achievements in later life, have markedly less prevalence of metabolic-related conditions in children.
Researchers examined a database containing the fitness records of 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976, on entry into military service at 18. They then traced their subsequent progress through life, and found that cardiovascular fitness appeared to be predictive of cognition in middle age.
In other words, the more exercise they had done during adolescence, the more likely they were to be successful professionally.
Neuroscientists believe there are a number of reasons for this. Studies show that doing enough physical activity to improve cardiorespiratory fitness in childhood is directly related to the structure and function of the developing brain, especially regions such as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and the prefrontal cortex, which does not complete its formation until your early 20s.
The data available suggests the neuroprotective qualities of exercise are present throughout life, with individuals in their 60s and 70s who exercise having a lower risk factor of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
As such, scientists believe that one of the lasting benefits of exercising early in life is actually psychological.
There’s a strong tendency for childhood exercise to have a positive influence, says Ted Garland, professor of biology at the University of California. Those who have grown up doing regular exercise are more motivated to get out there and exercise as adults. This could be linked to the effect of exercise on the brain¹s reward-feedback loops.
We know that exercise increases the levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and, to an extent, serotonin, and that has a kick-back effect on motivation that persists for a lot of time.
But what is fascinating is that bones retain a ‘memory’ of early-life exercise before the onset of puberty that lasts long after the exercise has ceased and provides health benefits even in a relatively sedentary adulthood.
If you look at children who begin intense exercise very early in life, for example children whose parents get them involved in tennis or gymnastics, this induces a pattern of changes in the way their genes express themselves which stays with them for many years, says Professor Elwyn Firth of the University of Auckland’s department of exercise sciences.
Scientists have found evidence of exercise-related benefits even earlier in life, passed on by mothers who exercise during pregnancy, or even prior to conception.
With all this data in hand it still seems that physical activity in humans is rapidly declining and looks set to get worse!
Reem Antoon is a former GDN news editor. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org