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Physical exercise within the school piopulation of Galicia (Spain)

Maceiras Lourdes1; Fuster Manuel2.

Area of Preventive Medicine1 and Public Health. University of Vigo, Spain.
2General Hospital of Galicia. Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Material and Methods


The prevention of cardiovascular diseases implies the control of risk factors, avoiding them from childhood and fostering a healthy way of life that will ease making the right decisions for the health. Two of these risk factors are sedentariness and obesity, so promoting physical exercise in good balance with rest is going one step ahead in the health promotion. In our country, people are realizing how important is physical exercise, but it is necessary to know the present situation in order to evaluate the task ahead, especially in the stages of childhood and adolescence, key periods to acquire healthy habits.


To determine the habits and behaviors of the Galician schoolchildren according to their physical activities


Material and Methods:

Cross-sectional study.
Population: Schoolchildren from all over Galicia, studying Primary School (E.G.B.=Educación General Básica=General Basic Education), levels 4th (they begin when they are 9 years old and they finish at 10), 6th (from 11 to 12) and 8th (from 13 to 14), and the second year of Secondary Education (in both B.U.P.= Unified and Polyvalent High School and F.P.= Technical School), from 15 to 16 years old. These levels were chosen because they close cycles within the Spanish educational system. The sample population consistes of 167,168 students from both public and private schools.
Sample: Stratified randomization. lt was stratified according to the habitat: urban (cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants) and rural, and according to the school levels. We chose 1,600 people (sample size calculated from the standard formula of infinite populations), with a prediction error margin of 2.5% and a level of trust of 95.5 %, p=q=0.5).
The information gathering process was made with a closed-question test, self-filled, in small groups of no more than 15 people, conducted by a especially trained interviewer. The interviews were made in the selected schools.



1. Physical activity other than sports. We considered two aspects:
1.1. Usual means of transportation to school (table l).

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Students were divided by age in two groups: EGB and BUP-FP, and we analyzed the demographic and sociocultural variables. We noticed that the use of school or public transportation was more common in the rural areas than in the city (46.7% and 16.6% in EGB, 43.8% and 35.4% in BUP-FP). In both cases, the majority of riders attended public schools. On the other hand, most urban kids walked to school in both age groups. The ones that used private cars were mainly private school students.
1.2. Other types of non-sport activities: we analyzed activities besides sports that required some physical effort and could be usual in these age groups (see tables 2 and 3).

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Taking into consideration the demographic and socioeconomicc variables, the students of EGB were more likely to ride a bicycle daily in the rural areas than in the urban ones (14% more), it was more common for boys (10% more than girls), and for the public school system pupils. Private school students usually did this activity during the week-end. Playing in public grounds was more frequent in females (10% more), in rural areas and in public school students. Girls also walked more during the week-end than the boys (35.5% to 24.9%). On the other hand, physical tasks were performed two times more by male students.
In the BUP-FP group, more males than females run daily (12% more) and ride a bicycle, especially during the week-end (36.3% and 24% for females). Both actlivities were more common in the rural areas. Playing in public grounds was more popular for males, and walking for females (50% and only 30% of males). Physical tasks were more common for females, especially in the rural areas.
2. Organized sports. We considered here extra-academy organizad sports, that is formal sport practice, ruled and supervised by professionals, usually within the official sport associations, with specific equipment, competitive or non-competitive and after school hours. We excluded the subject of Physical Education, but we admitted those sport activities in the school grounds that didn't take place during school hours and fulfilled the requirements of this category. Spontaneous or informal practices for fun were considered games and would be included in the previous category. We worked with two variables:
2.1. Individual sports (table 4).

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2.2. Team sports (table 5).

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According to the demographic and socioeconomic variables, we noticed that systematic sport practice was more common in the urban areas, 10% more than in the rural ones. In private schools there was more sports practice than in public ones (20% more in EGB and 14% more in BUP-FP). If we take gender into consideration, sports are more popular for males (18% more in EGB and 14% more in BUP-FP).
The reasons of the students to be involved in sports practice can be found in table 6 y 7

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The results in 1.1., according to demographic and socioeconomic variables, are more complex than just a different power of purchase. This behavior is also greatly influenced by the geographical distribution of school buildings for the different types of education and according to the population of the area, and also by the climate of Galicia (cold and rainy).
The Spanish Departments of Health and Education [Ministerio de Sanidad y Consumo y Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia] are conducting a nationwide research project called "Los escolares y la salud" the Spanish school population. In the 1986 survey, conducted in the Sixth and Eighth EGB levels, they noticed that most students (78%) walked to school, only 15% used the bus (mostly in rural areas) and only 15% went by car. A very small number used bicycle or motorcycle. In the 1990 survey (Sixth and Eighth levels and also Second of BUP-FP), 69% still walked to school. The older they were, the more likely to use the bus or the subway, and also the greater the distance to their educational center; FP students had to travel the most. In our study, most of the students walked, too, although in Galicia one should take into account the scattered distribution of houses and villages, which increases the difficulty of going to class, especially on foot.
The Spanish survey of 1986 stated that 39% of the students did some kind of physical exercise daily, like running, walking or riding a bicycle, and only 2% of them declared never doing any exercise. Only 33% of girls did some daily exercise to 45% of boys. lt was more common in rural areas, in Eighth grade students and popular among the children of professionals more than of non-qualified workers. In 1990, physical exercise was more frequent than sports and still females were less active. In our survey, we used a fairly comprehensive questionnaire and we noticed a general tendency towards inactivity, to postpone exercise until the week-end, and a decrease in physical tasks. Jogging, cycling and playing in public places were the most frequent activities in EGB, and walking and hiking in BUP-FP, probably because, they are typical teenage behavior. The youths in our sample also were more active in rural areas than in the cities, and males more than females, the same as in the other studies.
If we take sports into account, in 1986 women were less active: they practiced daily organized sports three times less than males. Sports are more common in public educacion students than in private ones. As in other physical activities, it is more popular the organizad practice among the children of the qualified workers. Contrary to the other activities, Sixth grade students declared themselves more sporty than Eighth graders, study. In the 1990 survey, 35% of the 15 year-old students confessed not practicing any sports, instead of 22% of 11 year-olds and 25% of 13 yearolds. We can, then state that inactivity and sedentariness increase with the age. In the national Spanish surveys the number of 11 and 13 year-old girls that never practice any sports has increased from 1986 to 1990. At the same time, the number of 13 year-old boys that practice sports every day out of school hours has also decreased. All these data go along the increase in the number of hours they watch TV evry day.



There is more sedentariness than it should be in our children and, especially, in the adolescence. This inactivity decreases during the weekend and increases with the age, with the urbanization and in females. So, the activities to health promotion in this area should be targeted to alleviate those shortcomings.
Sedentariness is a risk factor for obesity, which leads to hypertension, weaving a net that traps us more and more as the civilization process evolves. All these are risk factors for cardiovascular troubles and together they proportionally increase the probabilities of falling sick. If we don't take this in consideration from childhood, later is more difficult to change habits and life styles. In fact, both boys and girls of the last generations are gaining weight (with the same height) compared to the previous ones.
An health education is necessary, and also economic, urbanistic and legislative changes, so the healthier options in everyday life really are the easier to take. Only then we would overcome the cultural, economic, physical or any other obstacles that make difficult to keep a healthy life styles.


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