Introduction

1. Why this physical activity guide?

The human body evolved to be physically active. In other words, our bodies require physical activity to remain healthy. Throughout history, survival of the human species depended on hunting or gathering our food supplies, pursuits that demanded prolonged and often strenuous physical activity. The advent of mechanization and modern technology in the last few decades has resulted in the human race becoming less physically active than ever before – and we are paying for it with our health.

Regular physical activity is associated with a healthier, longer life [1, 2]. However, the majority of adults and young people in Spain are insufficiently physically active for health benefits. The situation is similar worldwide in both developed and developing countries, with a large body of research evidence indicating declining levels of physical activity and physical fitness within all age brackets. Physical inactivity is widely recognized as a major risk factor for chronic diseases, and ranks between the second and sixth most important risk factor in contributing to the population burden of disease in western society [3-5]. Its prevalence is higher than that of all other modifiable risk factors [5]. Physical inactivity during the early years of life is currently indicated as a major contributor to the increasing levels of obesity, and other serious medical conditions, being seen in children and adolescents in Europe and elsewhere [6, 7]. The increased political, media and scientific interest in obesity since the late 1990’s has placed physical activity high among current public health issues.

The nature of children’s recreational pursuits has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Whereas children used to spend much of their recreational time engaged in active outdoor play, the emergence of television, computer games and the internet has meant that children are now spending much more of their free time engaged in sedentary pursuits. The importance of physical activity for the physical, mental and social health of youth is undisputed, and therefore it is critically important that efforts are made throughout the world to “reintroduce” physical activity into our youth.The purpose of this guide is to assist in this drive towards a more physically active youth in Spain. The Government of Spain is keen that all parents, teachers and  other child educators participate in improving the levels of physical activity among Spain’s youth. This needs to be an urgent priority.

Unquestionably, the challenges posed by the growing issue of physical inactivity and childhood obesity can be considered to be some of the greatest challenges to public health in the 21st century.The responsibility to improve levels of childhood physical activity and other health related childhood behaviours lies with everyone in society.However, as an individual directly involved with children, you are an especially important part of the influential network. Schools, homes and the community are excellent locations to assist children in improving health related lifestyle behaviours such as physical activity.

Let’s start to get Spain’s kids active!
 

2. Who is this guide designed for?

This guide is designed to inform adults that work with young people about the importance of physical activity for this population and how it can be promoted effectively both within the school environment, the home environment and elsewhere within the community. It is an important information source for all people involved in education of children and adolescents, including schoolteachers, trainers, coaches, monitors, parents and health professionals. It is a relatively detailed document yet has been written in a manner that is designed to be informative both for adults with advanced knowledge of physical activity (PE teachers, monitors, trainers, health professionals, etc.) and for those who have limited knowledge of the area. 

As much as possible, we have attempted to avoid excessively complicated wording. However, there is a list of key definitions and words that are used within the main text at the end of this guide in the event of confusion. In this guide, the term “young people” encompasses both children (under the age of puberty) and youth (adolescents).
 

3. Objectives of this guide

The guide has been laid out in such a manner with the major goals being:

  1. To improve understanding of important concepts and issues regarding physical activity and physical fitness,
  2. To provide information regarding the importance of physical activity for the health of young people, both during the younger years and also in later life,
  3. To describe current physical activity recommendations for young people and how these recommendations can be achieved,
  4. To provide information regarding how physical activity may be effectively promoted in young people within schools, homes and the community, and
  5. To briefly describe the characteristics of a sound diet to support a physically active lifestyle in young people.

The overriding goal of this guide is to assist in improving the levels of physical activity in young people in Spain.

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