Girls more active with sports they enjoy

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The more enjoyable a physical education program can be made for adolescent girls, the more likely they are to be physically active, according to new research in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

The study is the first of its kind to link an increase in enjoyment to increased physical activity among adolescent girls.

As part of the Lifestyle Education for Activity Program (LEAP) intervention, the study was designed to target specific factors influencing enjoyment of physical education and physical activity among girls, such as successful experiences with physical activity, goal accomplishment, being with friends, teacher support, improvement of skills, and overcoming barriers. Researchers examined enjoyment as a motivating factor for girls to be active rather than the expectancy of a specific outcome, such as weight maintenance, fitness or health. The results indicate enjoyment, as an immediate reward for being physically active, positively influences girls’ physical activity both in and outside of school.

Participants included 2,087 ninth-grade black and white girls that were eligible and willing to participate in the one-year school-based intervention to increase physical activity and fitness. Girls rated a series of questions about factors that influenced their enjoyment of physical education and physical activity in general. They also rated their confidence levels about overcoming barriers to being physically active. The results showed that the intervention improved factors rated by the girls as influencing their enjoyment of physical education classes, which in turn increased the girls’ enjoyment of physical activity and their confidence about being active. Those changes helped explain the success of the intervention in increasing the girls’ physical activity levels.

To promote fun and enjoyment in physical education, the intervention provided gender-separate activities for a portion of the class time, expanded choice of activities (tennis, aerobics), provided activities favored more frequently by female students, deemphasized competition, minimized activities that caused students to be omitted from participation (dodge ball or interclass tournaments), and emphasized small-group interactions rather than large-group/team activities. Additionally, fitness activities were designed to be more moderate than vigorous and other activities were catered to the interest of the girls, such as noncompetitive and inclusive sports instruction.

“Relatively modest changes to physical education programs in schools focused on fun and enjoyment can impact the way kids approach physical activity and exercise outside the classroom,” said Rod K. Dishman, Ph.D., FACSM, lead researcher. “In the face of an epidemic of obesity in young people in this country, and the steep decline in physical activity during high school, especially among girls, this information can be particularly useful in offering some guidance on how to reach young people and encourage exercise and physical activity.”

The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 International, National, and Regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

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