If you are a parent and think sending your child to youth dance classes is keeping them healthy and active, think again. A new study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests most of the time kids spend at youth dance classes is inactive.

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Most of the time children and adolescents spend at dance classes is inactive concludes new research.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around half of all American children and adolescents do not meet the CDC physical activity guidelines.

The guidelines advise that all young people aged 6-17 years engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day; 30 minutes provided at school and the remaining 30 minutes in after school activities. The guidelines also highlight that the majority of this physical activity should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise.

The new study, published online May 18th in the journal Pediatrics, finds that only slightly more than one-third of the class time, on average, is spent engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

The researchers reveal that most of the dance class time was spent involved in light activities including standing, listening or stretching.

Senior author of the study James Sallis, PhD, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, and colleagues analyzed the activity levels of girls ages 5-18 participating in a variety of dance class types.

“This is a very commonly used opportunity for young people, especially girls, to be physically active, and we find that they are inactive most of the time during dance classes,” says Sallis. “We see this as a missed opportunity to get kids healthier.”

The research emphasizes that although class times averaged 49 minutes, participants recorded on average 17 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per class – this figure varied by age and dance class type.

Sallis comments:

Overall, physical activity in youth dance classes was low. The study showed 8% of children and 6% of adolescents met the CDC’s 30-minute recommendation for after-school physical activity during dance.”

The data were collected at 17 private studios and four community centers in San Diego County and included 264 girls from 66 dance classes. Physical activity was measured with accelerometers, special devices worn around the waist, which recorded the intensity of movement every 15 seconds.

The participants were tracked in two age groups, children ages 5-10 and adolescents ages 11-18. The investigators observed that children were more active than adolescents in nearly all dance styles.

Seven types of dance were included in the study: ballet, jazz, hip-hop, flamenco, salsa/ballet folklorico, tap, and partnered dance, which included ballroom, merengue and swing.

The results identified a variation in activity based on the type of dance. “We found that not all dance types are created equal,” said Kelli Cain, the study’s first author. “For example, hip-hop came out among the top in activity level for both children and adolescents while flamenco was the least active for both groups.”

In children, hip-hop averaged 57% of class time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, while flamenco averaged about 14% of class time in moderate-to-vigorous activity.

“Though there are important social, developmental, cultural and esthetics benefits of dance that should be maintained and strengthened, it should be possible to increase physical activity,” notes Sallis. He advises there are an estimated 32,000 private dance studios in the US as well as dance taught through school physical education classes and after-school programs.

In the future, Sallis hopes that dance instructors will follow the CDC’s 30-minute after school activity recommendation in their classes.

The researchers propose this could be implemented through more vigorous warm-up periods, engaging in more frequent and longer practices of dance moves and ensuring a segment of vigorous exercise is apparent in each class to improve fitness.

Another strategy suggested by the researchers would be to emphasize greater participation in dance class types with higher levels of physical activity. Sallis stresses that making dance classes more active is critically important because of its popularity with girls.

Previous studies have shown that girls are less physically active than boys, and this trend begins as early as preschool. Sallis adds, “People are very concerned about the level of obesity in the US among youth and how it has risen so dramatically. The more we study it, the more we find out how many ways young people are not very active. Boys don’t get enough exercise and girls get even less.”

While a researcher at San Diego State University in 2010, Sallis studied physical activity in multiple popular youth sports. The findings indicated that only one-fourth of children participating in organized sports – such as baseball, softball or soccer – received the government-recommended amount of physical activity during team practices.

“Nothing improves youth physical and mental health in as many ways as physical activity,” concludes Sallis. “That is why our research group is examining multiple strategies for creating more opportunities for young people to be physically active at home, at school, and throughout the community.”

Back in January, Medical News Today reported on a study exploring the benefits of physical activity on the brain functions of young adults. The study concluded that young adults’ brain function may be boosted by exercise.