July 31, 2019


Teenagers who play sport after school are only 7 minutes more active per day than those who don’t.

Harriet Koorts, Deakin University and Jo Salmon, Deakin University

Teenagers who play organised sport only get seven minutes more physical activity per day, on average, than teenagers who don’t play any sport.

Research, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, found organised sport contributes to just 4% of teenagers’ daily physical activity levels.

There are several possible explanations for this. Teenagers typically get most of their physical activity during school hours and unstructured leisure time rather than organised sport.

Studies show teenagers spend between one-third and one-half of time at sport practice getting activity at an intensity that’s beneficial for their health. Teenagers may also be getting to and from sport practice and games in a car.

And those who don’t play sport may be spending this time doing other physical activities.

This isn’t to say sport isn’t important, but there are different ways to be active. Teenagers might walk or cycle to and from school, walk between classes at school, participate in physical education, shoot hoops at the local park with friends, help with chores around the house and also play sport.

What did we study?

We recruited 358 teenagers (146 boys, 212 girls) from 18 Victorian secondary schools for the study. We asked them to report the number of sports teams and physical activity classes they took part in outside school hours, as well as the type of sport they played and the number of times they played each week.

We also recorded participants’ daily physical activity by asking them to wear an accelerometer (a device recording their movements) for eight days.

Participants (with a mean age of 15.3) spent a mean of 27 minutes per day doing moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Half reported playing at least one sport. Those who played sport did so an average of 3.4 times per week. They got seven more minutes per day of activity than the participants who did no sport.

Participants got an extra five minutes of physical activity per day, on average, for each additional sport. Field hockey and gymnastics contributed most to activity levels.

This doesn’t mean playing sport isn’t important. Sport offers a range of social and mental health benefits for teenagers. But our study shows it’s not the best way to meet physical activity guidelines or to lose weight. Previous studies also show the link between playing sport and weight loss is quite weak.

Why does this matter?

Australia’s physical activity guidelines recommend teenagers get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, including activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least three times a week.

But only 6% of 15-to-17-year-olds meet these guidelines. Latest figures show one in four Australian children and teenagers (aged 2-17) are overweight or obese.

The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on school and community sport over the last decade or more. The Sporting Schools program, for instance, provides children with access to over 30 national sporting organisations that deliver sport sessions (sometimes along with equipment) during school term.

Sports programs may fail to reach teenagers who are least active. Teenagers who play organised sports tend to come from higher socioeconomic areas. Government-funded sports programs also often run at weekends and after school, but physical activity should be accumulated throughout the day every day.

The government is now starting to target more than organised sport to get young people moving. In spite of its title, the Sport 2030 – National Sports Plan’s top-line goal is to “build a more active Australia”.

This is the first time Australia has had a national sport or physical activity policy. The next steps are to develop a national action plan or evidence-based framework. And there are several templates that could be followed.

For instance, the Heart Foundation’s Blueprint for an Active Australia contains 13 action areas, 12 of which target-specific settings and population groups such as workplaces, health care, children and adolescents, sport and active recreation.

Action area 13 recommends research and program evaluation to ensure meaningful progress is being made towards increases in overall physical activity across the population.

Plans like these recognise the need for relevant agencies and government areas to work together. Sport and recreation needs to work with education and schools, the health sector, urban planning, transport, justice, disability organisations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, parent groups and private industry to support young people to get moving.

Our research findings support the notion that focusing solely on a single strategy or sector is not enough to address current levels of inactivity among Australian youth. A teenager would need to be playing sport daily and performing at the elite level for it to be the main contributor to them meeting guidelines.The Conversation

Harriet Koorts, Research Fellow Implementation Science, Deakin University and Jo Salmon, Alfred Deakin Professor, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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  • Wow I’m really shocked at this my daughter soccer team don’t stop. But there is more to sport than physical activity


  • It’s still beneficial physically and socially it’s just important to remember that you can’t just put them in organised sports and think that’s enough. Lots of opportunities for physical activity especially activities they enjoy are essential.


  • This is really interesting and highlights the importance of having a generally active life style verses a predominantly sedentary lifestyle with an hour of sport thrown in.


  • Very interesting. I wonder what other types of exercise or level activity it is compared to? And different sports have different activity levels also.


  • They may not exercise every day but I know a girl who plays netball once a week and trains once a week for an hour. She also goes to swimming lessons one hour per lesson one night, and 2 hours gymnastics at the weekend. Pupils, especially in high school have homework every night (or I did) plus assignments to hand in on a regular basis. I often spent approx 2 hours doing homework and revision every week night and often some during the weekend. A lot of schools encourage out of school hours sport but many either reduce the amount they used to do or stop to cope with extra homework etc. as they progress year by year at school.


  • Amazing


  • There are so many other benefits to organised sport beyond the actual physical activity part of it.

    • Exactly – there are indeed so many other benefits – learning new skills, making new friends and increasing networks.


  • I amazed and confused by these results.


  • I also found this study amazing. I would have thought that playing a sport any sport after school is beneficial-not just seven minutes difference. I believe as long as we introduce sports to children at a young age it becomes part of their routine throughout life. Healthy kids make healthy adults however it is competing now days with social media and gaming.


  • I hope more research is done on this and can support our kids learn healthy habits for the future


  • This surprises me. How come students who play after school sport play only 7minutes more then those who don’t ?


  • I found this article very interesting! I’m surprised by the results and would have assumed that playing a sport outside of school would contribute much more to their physical activity hours than this.


  • Sport is about exercise and also importantly social networks too.


  • Activities are fantastic for children after school especially if they’re interested in them because it teaches them how to occupy themselves properly and positively later on during teenage and adult years. If kids are bored or into gaming too much this can lead to social and behavioural problems is my opinion.


  • Kids need a lot of activity and half an hour after school simply isn’t enough.


  • Least they are doing more then kids on the couch


  • Interesting, I would of thought they were heaps more active haha


  • I’m a little surprised by this but, then, it may only be once or twice a week, and if they are getting no other type of physical activity, then that makes sense. They would be better off partaking in daily activities, walking to school, playing sports or ball games at the weekend, playing in the garden. To limit their activity to a once a week sports session certainly would not be enough.


  • I think you get the most exercise doing everyday things. Walking to school. Gardening. Cleaning. Sport is all well and good but at the end of the day its only an hour or so a week.


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