A recently published paper by Carla Van Den Berg (Calgary) and Angela Kolen (St. FX) found its way to my inbox the other day (google alerts is a great thing) and it caught my eye. This paper, published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, is titled “Children in Organized Hockey: How Much Physical Activity Do They Really Get?”
This is a great question to ask as we increasingly see kids specializing in a single sport at a young age, and so relying more and more on that sport for their exercise requirements. I think of my kids as fairly active, with the oldest playing hockey around 5 times a week, and the middle one playing about 3 times a week. Are they getting their daily exercise requirements when they play hockey?
As the authors point out, Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest kids should be participating in 60 minutes or more of moderate or intense physical activity daily. What the authors do in this study is use Actigraph GT3X triaxial accelerometers (I don’t know what these are either!) to measure the intensity and amount of physical activity a group of Atom AA kids experience in a 70 minute practice and a 80 minute game. What they found was that in a 70 minute practice a kid spent 43% of that time in moderate or intense physical activity, while during an 80 minute game, 28% of the time was spent on moderate or intense physical activity. Not surprisingly, (given the amount of time a player is on the bench rather than the ice during a game) practices led to more high level physical activity than games, but neither provided near the recommended 60 minutes of exercise at moderate/physical levels.
A few things about this study. One is the choice of an Atom AA team. At this age and level of hockey, the players are going to be pretty serious about hockey, as will their coaches, and so the kids should be putting in a decent amount of effort, and the coaches should be running high quality practices. A younger age group, or a lower level of hockey, might find even less physical activity scores as the amount of effort, and intensity of the practice could be less than what is seen in the paper.
Also, this study is focused on a single team and only 1 practice and 1 game was used for measuring effort. This study would have benefited from measuring the effort of this group of kids over a number of practices and games rather than just one of each. As anyone that has had kids in hockey knows, some practices/games the kids as a whole can work hard while others they don’t put in as much effort (Friday nights, quality of competition, etc), and the quality of the practices can vary too for a given team (eg the coach was too busy to prepare a practice plan for a given night). Further, running this study on more than one team would have also improved the study as again, even for an age group sometimes differences exist across teams and coaches in terms of effort, quality of practices, etc.
Obviously this is just one study, and I have reservations about the approach used, but the question asked – whether our kids are getting enough exercise through hockey – is an important one and deserves further research. This study seems to suggest that hockey is not enough, unless your kids are playing a few hours a day. I should note this isn’t a hockey specific issue, the authors mention other popular kids’ sports (eg soccer, basketball) that provide far less than an hour of moderate or intense physical activity per hour of activity.
If the findings the authors demonstrate are in the ball park (and although I have reservations on the sample size, the results are consistent with my prior beliefs), even if your kid plays an hour of hockey each day they aren’t meeting their exercise requirements. So what to do? It’s costly to play hockey (in terms of both time and money) and so adding an additional sport isn’t always easy. What stands out for me is gym class. These findings highlight the importance of additional physical activity during the day, and this is where a strong school phys. ed. program that really gets the kids active during school comes in. With debate about the value of physical education in our schools, this study would appear to suggest gym class is as important as ever for the physical and mental health of our kids. As well, getting kids active with unstructured physical activities after school and on weekends (street hockey or the outdoor rinks for those with hockey crazed kids) is another way to supplement what they get through organized hockey.