Socialising with friends key to tackling teenage inactivity

New research into teenage inactivity undertaken at Swansea University Medical School has shown that young people are more likely to take up exercise which is fun and can be done with their friends.

The study, which is part of the ACTIVE Project, also found that the empowerment of teenagers to make their own choices was vital to increasing their levels of physical activity.

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Youngsters at the launch of the ACTIVE project. Now researchers have delivered their findings about how to encourage youngsters to stay fit and healthy.

One in four people in the UK die because of cardiovascular disease and progress has slowed in preventing heart attacks and stroke, which has been linked with a decline in physical activity levels.  The findings are part of a report that highlights the contributing factors to teenage inactivity.  

The project, funded by the British Heart Foundation Cymru which has a research base at the Medical School in Swansea, aimed to see whether giving teenagers vouchers to spend on activities of their choice can reduce the time spent being sedentary, improve fitness, lower the risk of heart disease and improve general health.

70 teenagers from across Swansea

ACTIVE worked with more than 70 teenagers from seven secondary schools in Swansea over the 12-month study period with 8,000 monthly £20 vouchers handed out for them to use on things like dancing, football, swimming, karate, skateboarding or BMXing.

300 x 300Adam Fletcher, Head of British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cymru said the ACTIVE project has led to important insights into teenage attitudes to exercise. He said: “Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour among young people in Wales remain stubbornly high, and increasing participation in physical activity is essential for improving health and preventing future cardiovascular disease. 

“This is a crucial age in the development of young people and the ACTIVE Project gives us a unique insight into teenager’s attitudes towards exercise, the barriers they encounter and what motivates them to be active.”

 The study gave an insight into teenager’s attitudes to exercise, the findings revealed:

  • Higher numbers of teenagers took part in activities that are targeted at both genders.
  • During the study attitudes changed towards seeing activity as being something fun, sociable and, a positive experience.
  • Teenagers who wanted to be active were able to ‘pull’ along less active friends. There is evidence that the group of teenagers who took part in the voucher scheme can change community attitudes to activity.
  • Teenagers were highly self- motivated, and were not affected by external pressures such as feeling guilty or exercising because other people told them to.

 The research also showed significant health improvements:

  • As a result of using the vouchers there was an increase in the number of girls classed as ‘fit’.
  • There was a drop in the number of teenagers with high blood pressure and an overall improvement in heart health

School pressures affect amount of exercise taken

Some barriers still existed that the study did not overcome. Transport to activities was a barrier for many young people in deprived areas, and many found that a lack of time because of academic and school pressures was also a barrier.

Michaela James, ACTIVE Trial Manager, at Swansea University Medical School, said: “ACTIVE has been an amazing project to work on and has highlighted some important barriers to being active which our teenagers have provided recommendations to.

“Importantly, this project has shown that teenagers want to be active but are in desperate need for more opportunities that are local to them, are unstructured, informal and social. By raising awareness of how teenagers feel and what they need, we hope to provoke a change in physical activity delivery in Swansea.” 

Professor Keith Lloyd, Head of Swansea University Medical School, praised the work of the ACTIVE team. Professor Lloyd: “As we celebrate 70 years of the NHS, we as a Medical School are working to ensure it can not only survive - but thrive for the next 70 years. An important part of achieving this is focusing on prevention and improving people’s health. The ACTIVE Project is a fantastic example of how our research can contribute to this.

“Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour among young people in Wales remain high. This study provides us with new insights and a better understanding of the barriers to physical activity as well as providing recommendations into developing new ways to tackle the growing problem of inactivity.”

Follow the ACTIVE project on Twitter @ActiveProject_