Participation in sports and other forms of vigorous physical activity early in life are important to the maintenance of girls’ physical activity during adolescence, according to new research in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (JPAH).

Researchers from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina at Columbia found that vigorous activity declined from 45.4% in eighth grade girls to 34.1% in twelfth grade girls. Specifically, decreases in running, bicycling, basketball, soccer, softball and dancing participation were linked to the overall decline in physical activity between the two age groups.

The study is the first to link overall physical activity to specific team sports and individual activities. Researchers also found that motorized transportation tended to replace physically active transportation.

“These findings indicate the importance of early exposure to sports and other forms of physical activity,” states Russell Pate, PhD, lead researcher in the study. “Early exposure to sports and other physical activities can increase the likelihood that young people will engage in those activities over time.”

Pate points to physical education in schools as a key resource for improving youth activity habits. “Physical education classes offer opportunities for adolescent girls to try new sports and activities, learn activity skills and enjoy physical activity in a safe and controlled environment,” he adds. “Our schools can teach girls skills for being active in early adolescence, increasing the likelihood that they will continue to participate in physical activity in late adolescence and into young adulthood.”

The new study, which was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is published in the January issue of the JPAH, available online today. The JPAH is an interdisciplinary journal published for researchers in fields of chronic disease where physical activity may play a role in prevention, treatment, or rehabilitation. To view more information about the journal, visit