Systematic review of the relationships between objectively measured physical activity and health indicators in school-aged children and youth

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Jun;41(6 Suppl 3):S197-239. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2015-0663.


Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is essential for disease prevention and health promotion. Emerging evidence suggests other intensities of physical activity (PA), including light-intensity activity (LPA), may also be important, but there has been no rigorous evaluation of the evidence. The purpose of this systematic review was to examine the relationships between objectively measured PA (total and all intensities) and health indicators in school-aged children and youth. Online databases were searched for peer-reviewed studies that met the a priori inclusion criteria: population (apparently healthy, aged 5-17 years), intervention/exposure/comparator (volumes, durations, frequencies, intensities, and patterns of objectively measured PA), and outcome (body composition, cardiometabolic biomarkers, physical fitness, behavioural conduct/pro-social behaviour, cognition/academic achievement, quality of life/well-being, harms, bone health, motor skill development, psychological distress, self-esteem). Heterogeneity among studies precluded meta-analyses; narrative synthesis was conducted. A total of 162 studies were included (204 171 participants from 31 countries). Overall, total PA was favourably associated with physical, psychological/social, and cognitive health indicators. Relationships were more consistent and robust for higher (e.g., MVPA) versus lower (e.g., LPA) intensity PA. All patterns of activity (sporadic, bouts, continuous) provided benefit. LPA was favourably associated with cardiometabolic biomarkers; data were scarce for other outcomes. These findings continue to support the importance of at least 60 min/day of MVPA for disease prevention and health promotion in children and youth, but also highlight the potential benefits of LPA and total PA. All intensities of PA should be considered in future work aimed at better elucidating the health benefits of PA in children and youth.

Keywords: academic achievement; activité physique; behavioural conduct; bien-être; biomarqueurs cardiométaboliques; body composition; bone health; cardiometabolic biomarkers; children; comportement; composition corporelle; condition physique; enfant; fitness; physical activity; quality of life; qualité de vie; réussite scolaire; santé osseuse; well-being.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Body Composition
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Exercise*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Syndrome / blood
  • Metabolic Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Non-Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Physical Fitness
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers