How Physical Activity Changes Throughout Life

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

The amount and type of physical activity that people engage in changes throughout life. This lesson will explore this topic and will end with a quiz to test what you have learned.

Physical Activity

Are you moving right now? Maybe you are using your hand to operate the mouse on your computer. Maybe you are tapping your foot or scratching your back. Your eyes are probably moving to read these words on your screen. All of these things represent physical activity.

Physical activity is the movement of your body. This movement requires energy. The more intense the movement is, the amount of energy required to carry it out increases. For example, using your computer mouse to scroll down the screen requires much less energy than running a marathon.

The amount and type of physical activity that we engage in varies greatly from person to person, but also changes in general throughout our lives depending on our age and stage of development. Let's take a closer look at the ways that physical activity changes throughout life. We will do this by examining the life of Janie.

Physical Activity in Infants

Janie was just born. She is moments old and is moving her arms and legs in a jerky and uncoordinated way. Do you think Janie is controlling her movements?

The physical activity of young infants begins as reflexive. Reflexive movement is automatic based on natural reflexes and is not intentional. For example, Janie may be startled by a sound and flail her arms and legs.

As infants grow and develop, reflexive movement begins to diminish and kids begin to control their own movements. Normal and healthy development brings fine tuning to gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills use large muscle groups such as the arms and legs. Fine motor skills use small muscle groups such as fingers and toes. As Janie goes from a newborn to a toddler, she will sit up, crawl, walk, color with crayons, etc. as a result of this development.

Physical Activity in Children

Janie is now in school. She likes to run and play at recess. She has started taking dance classes and gymnastics. Janie also plays soccer.

Preschool and school age children are usually very physically active. Physical activity is an important social and moral tool in the healthy development of children. Through physical activity, kids learn to make friends. They also learn about teamwork, following rules, and reciprocal behavior. Reciprocal behaviors are done for others, similar to the 'I scratch your back, and you scratch mine' saying. For example, Janie learned that some playground games require taking turns.

Physical Activity in Adolescence

Look out! Janie is now a teenager, or adolescent. Adolescence is the period of development where people reach physical maturity. Janie plays competitive soccer now for her high school and hopes to play in college.

Physical activity in adolescence is an important part of physical development. Most teens are nearing their peak of physical strength, thus are able to show mastery in many areas. Physical activity is also important for teens to socialize and appeal to potential romantic partners.

Teens Like to Exercise in Groups as a Social Activity
adolescent exercise

Physical Activity in Adulthood

Janie has moved from childhood into adulthood. It is fairly common to see changes in both the types of physical activity practiced and the levels of intensity throughout adulthood. Let's take a closer look.

Early Adulthood

Janie is now in college. She got the opportunity to play soccer for her school, and she loves it! For Janie, physical activity is a big part of who she is and an important part of her social activity.

Young adults usually engage in physical activity for sportsmanship, fitness and for the benefits that it provides to their overall appearance. They have reached peak levels of physical strength and tend to be very healthy overall, so intense physical activity is possible.

Middle Adulthood

Time is flying by and now Janie is married with kids. She also works as a teacher at the local high school. Janie doesn't really have a lot of time for exercise with her busy life, but enjoys walking her dog and practicing yoga with her friends a few days a week.

Janie's shift from regular intense physical activity to less frequent and lower intensity workouts is common during middle age. Not only does time become an issue for most adults at this age, but physical ability begins to decline. It is not uncommon for people to gain a bit of weight and lose some muscle. Physical activity helps to maintain fitness in middle age and serves as a great stress reliever.

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