Hey kids, it's true: Your parents were never this slow

New research shows that kids around the world, on average, need an extra 90 seconds to run a mile than did kids in 1975. Increased body weight and a lack of exercise are factors.

AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
In this May 13, 2007 photo, boys participate in 100 meter race during two-day World Athletics Day meet in Bangalore, India. An analysis of studies on 250 million children around the world finds they don't run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

Scientists haven't yet discovered how many children, upon hearing of time travel, dream of heading back a few decades to visit their parents as kids. Stripped of height and authority, would parents be any fun? Maybe they would just be bossy, brutish, and short. Would they know how to play tag?  

If today's kids could wangle such a playdate, however, they might find themselves left in the sandbox dust, according to new research presented at Tuesday's annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

Exercise physiologists at the University of South Australia who analyzed research on 25 million children around the world determined that today's kids, on average, take a minute and a half longer to run a mile than did kids in 1975. The studies measured how far children of different ages could run in 5 to 15 minutes, and how quickly they could run distances up to two miles.

But do fleet feet really matter now that most of our predators, as well as our prey, are stored behind bars? Isn't texting speed more relevant to modern survival?

Apparently running still matters. According to these researchers and many others, several factors make running fitness a key measure of heart health.

The Associated Press reported details on the findings, which were fairly constant across gender and age groups:

"The decline in fitness seems to be leveling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in the last few years in North America. However, it continues to fall in China, and Japan never had much falloff – fitness has remained fairly consistent there. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia."

The study's lead scientist, Grant Tomkinson, said that increased bodyweights and TV/video game consumption, along with unsafe and decentralized neighborhoods, and school curricula stripped of physical education, may all make it hard for children to get the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended by government health experts.

"We are currently facing the most sedentary generation of children in our history," said Sam Kass, a White House chef and head of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move program, in a speech to the conference.

According to Tomkinson, it's important that parents limit their children's sedentary time – spent curled over a tablet, computer, or smartphone – to less than two hours per day.

What kids really need, he said, is good old-fashioned sweaty, exhausting exercise. Roller skates, anyone?

"You want exercise to be fun," said Tomkinson, "but there needs to be some huff and puff there as well."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.