Girls are less physically active during the school day than boys; during leisure time, the differences diminish

A recently published follow-up study showed that changes in physical activity during the teen years are different between the sexes.

A recently published follow-up study showed that changes in physical activity during the teen years are different between the sexes. Boys move more than girls, but this difference diminishes with age. However, girls get significantly less physical activity in school all through comprehensive school.

Leisure-time physical activity decreases with age, especially in boys

During the two-year follow-up, sedentary time increased and moderate to vigorous physical activity decreased. Weekend days were less active than weekdays. In boys, moderate to vigorous physical activity decreased and sedentary time increased, especially on weekend days, and the differences were greater than in girls. This explains why there were no differences between sexes in the amount of physical activity at the end of the follow-up.

Physical education classes, recess activity, and active school commuting may explain the difference between weekday and weekend-day physical activity. In Finland, most of the pupils living within walking or cycling distance from school do not use motorised transport in their commute.

In addition to adding physical activity to the pupils’ days, schools can support families in finding meaningful hobbies for children. Many schools work together with local sports clubs through after-school programmes and sport exhibitions.

In school, girls are less physically active

Girls got less physical activity during school in all the measurements. This was the only time during the week where physical activity difference between sexes remained constant. It has been speculated that boys are more dominant in physical activities during recess and physical education, and that girls are valued more based on academic achievements and less based on physical activity.

In the Finnish Schools on the Move programme, many schools have been able to increase girls’ physical activity by providing them with girls-only activities, like a separate gym for dance practices at recess. Interestingly, in Finland, many schools have found that although girls may be less physically active themselves, they are more active than boys as peer instructors for organising recess physical activity.

Physical activity was followed with accelerometers for two years

In the study conducted by the LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, 771 pupils were followed for two years in nine Finnish comprehensive schools. Physical activity was measured with accelerometers five times during the follow-up. At baseline, the pupils were between 10 and 13 years old, and at the end they were 12 to 15.

This is one of the first follow-up studies in which physical activity has been measured separately for school and leisure times.

Kallio, J., Hakonen, H., Syväoja, H., Kulmala, J., Kankaanpää, A., Ekelund, U., & Tammelin, T. (2020). Changes in physical activity and sedentary time during adolescence: Gender differences during weekdays and weekend days. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, March, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13668

More information

Jouni Kallio

Jouni Kallio

Researcher Research on physical activity and health +358407440947 jouni.kallio@likes.fi

Tuija Tammelin

Tuija Tammelin

Research Director Research on physical activity and health +358400247998 tuija.tammelin@likes.fi

Noora Moilanen

Noora Moilanen

Communications Manager Joy in Motion, Schools on the Move and Students on the Move programmes +358504698178 noora.moilanen@oph.fi

See all contact information