How Physical Activity Changes Throughout Life

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  • 0:04 Physical Activity
  • 0:55 Infancy & Childhood
  • 2:25 Adolescence
  • 2:55 Adulthood
  • 4:38 Benefits
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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. In this lesson, we'll explore how physical activity changes throughout the different life stages, from infancy to late adulthood.

Physical Activity

Are you moving right now? Maybe you're using your hand to operate the mouse on your computer. Maybe you're tapping your foot or scratching your back. Your eyes are probably moving to watch this lesson. All of these actions represent physical activity, or 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 by examining Janie's life stages.

Infancy & Childhood

At birth, Janie, who is just moments old, is moving her arms and legs in a jerky and uncoordinated way. Do you think Janie is controlling her movements? Physical activity in young infants begins as reflexive movement, an automatic, unintentional action based on natural reflexes. For example, when startled by a sound, Janie may flail her arms and legs.

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

Once Janie transitions into childhood, she'll attend school, where she likes to run and play at recess. She also takes dance and gymnastics classes and 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, rules, and reciprocal behavior, or actions done for others. For example, Janie learned that some playground games require taking turns.


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

Physical activity in adolescence is an important part of physical development, as most teens are nearing their peak of physical strength, demonstrating mastery in many areas. Physical activity is also important in that it provides opportunities for teens to socialize and appeal to potential romantic partners.

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


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. Let's take a closer look, beginning with early adulthood.

Early Adulthood

Janie is now in college, where she plays soccer for her school. Physical activity is a big part of who she is as well as an important part of her social life. Like Janie, young adults usually engage in physical activity for sportsmanship, fitness, and the benefits that it provides to their overall appearance. They have reached their peak levels of physical strength and tend to be very healthy overall, so intense physical activity is possible.

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