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Play is good for children, study says

Doctors may soon have a prescription for health that even children will like: more playtime. European and international health experts say a new study makes the most convincing case yet for the benefits of children being active. They say the research may lead to new guidelines saying youngsters between ages 5 and 16 need to be active up to 1 1/2 hours a day.

For some parents, that might be accomplished simply by showing their children the door.

``Just making sure children play outside will double the amount of physical activity they get," said Dr. Lars Bo Andersen, lead author of the research published Friday in the medical journal Lancet.

Experts said the study doesn't mean children need to be on treadmills or in soccer leagues; they just need to be able to run around and play physically, even for short bursts of time.

Concerned by flaws in previous studies, Andersen and his colleagues set out to examine the connection between children's physical activity and risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

The study looked at 1,732 9- and 15-year-olds from Denmark, Estonia, and Portugal. Physical activity was monitored for four consecutive days by strapping little machines to the youngsters' hips, which monitored accelerations in body movements.

Despite differences among the three countries where children were monitored, the benefits of physical activity were consistent. The more-active children had healthier numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin.

Because it measures activity objectively, without relying on questionnaires, Andersen's research may lead to a reconsideration of physical activity guidelines by countries and global health organizations.

``This is much stronger evidence than we've ever had before," said Nick Cavill, a research associate in the public health department at Oxford University, who wasn't involved in the study.

About 40 percent of those monitored were reasonably active, while the rest were sedentary, researchers said. The study found that the benefits of physical activity applied to all children, not just to obese children, normally thought to be at higher risk.

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