Canadian Health Measures Survey: Physical activity of youth and adults

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2007 to 2009

New international and proposed Canadian guidelines recommend that to obtain substantial health benefits, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week. According to new data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 15% of Canadian adults attain this level of activity.

The guidelines also suggest that young people aged 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. CHMS data indicated that 7% of young people attain this level of activity.

By gender, the guidelines for adults were achieved by 17% of men and 14% of women. The guidelines for young people were achieved by 9% of boys and 4% of girls.

The CHMS used accelerometers to collect objective measures of physical activity and sedentary behaviour for a nationally representative sample of Canadians aged 6 to 79. The data show that the majority of waking hours of both adults and young people are sedentary.

Adults spend about an average of 9.5 hours a day in sedentary pursuits, the equivalent of about 69% of their waking hours.

For children and youth, 8.6 hours a day, or 62% of their waking hours, are sedentary. These averages increase with age; among teenagers aged 15 to 19, sedentary time surpasses 9 hours a day.

Adults

Overall, about one-half (53%) of adults accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity one or more days a week, but this means that almost as many (47%) do so less than one day a week.

About 5% of adults accumulate 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on a regular basis, that is, at least 30 minutes at least five days a week.

At ages 20 to 39, men engage in more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than do women. On average, men accumulate 27 minutes a day of such activity, compared with 21 minutes for women. Obese men accumulate 19 minutes a day, while obese women accumulate 13 minutes.

Men average about 9,500 steps a day, compared with 8,400 for women.

This daily average is significantly lower at ages 60 to 79 (7,900 steps for men and 7,000 steps for women). Obese men and women accumulate significantly fewer steps per day than do adults with a healthy weight.

Note to readers

This release is based on two articles in the January 2011 issue of Health Reports. Both articles analyze directly measured data on physical activity collected by the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). The first presents results for a nationally representative sample of adults aged 20 to 79, and the second, for young people aged 6 to 19.

The CHMS was conducted in partnership with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. It is the most comprehensive survey involving direct physical measures ever carried out in Canada.

On completion of their visit to one of the CHMS mobile examination centres, respondents were asked to wear an accelerometer during their waking hours for seven days. The monitors measured and recorded acceleration in all directions, thereby indicating the intensity of physical activity. Accelerometer signals were also translated into steps accumulated per minute.

A total of 2,832 adults aged 20 to 79 and 1,608 children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 returned the monitor with at least four days of valid data.

Roughly one-third (35%) of men and women achieve the well-known pedometer target of 10,000 steps a day.

Children and youth

Overall, boys aged 6 to 19 average about an hour a day (61 minutes) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, while girls average about three-quarters of an hour (47 minutes).

Weight is a factor for boys. Boys who are neither overweight nor obese average 65 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day. Among overweight boys, the average is 51 minutes, and among obese boys, 44 minutes. This gradient was not significant among girls.

The percentage of children and youth who accumulate 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on at least six days a week is estimated at 7%. Considerably higher percentages accumulate 30 minutes a day. About 29% of boys and 21% of girls engage in 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at least six days a week, and 83% of boys and 73% of girls do so at least three days a week.

The vast majority (97%) of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity among children and youth is done at moderate intensity. About 4% accumulate 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity at least three days a week, 6% accumulate 10 minutes, and 11% accumulate 5 minutes.

Boys average 12,100 steps per day compared with 10,300 for girls. About 7% of boys and 3% of girls take 13,500 steps a day at least six days a week. The step count target of 13,500 steps per day is approximately equivalent to 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Adolescents take fewer steps compared with children aged 6 to 10.

Overweight boys average significantly fewer steps than do boys who are neither overweight nor obese, a relationship that does not exist for girls.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5071.

The articles, "Physical activity of Canadian adults: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey" and "Physical activity of Canadian children and youth: Accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey," part of Health Reports, Vol. 22, no. 1 (82-003-X, free), are now available from the Key resource module of our website under Publications. For information about these articles, contact Rachel C. Colley (613-951-1193; 613-737-7600, ext. 4118; rcolley@cheo.on.ca), Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute or Didier Garriguet (613-951-7187; didier.garriguet@statcan.gc.ca), Health Analysis Division.

For information about Health Reports, contact Janice Felman (613-951-6446; janice.felman@statcan.gc.ca), Health Analysis Division.

For information about the Canadian Health Measures Survey, 2007 to 2009, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-888-253-1087; chms-ecms@statcan.gc.ca), Physical Health Measures Division.