Man v 6-year-old: Who's more active?

If you strap an activity tracker to a 6-year-old, would they beat an adult?
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"I don't know where Little Billy gets his energy from. He just never stops moving. I wish I could be half as active as that." Sound familair?

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers

We take as fact that young kids move more than adults. But do they really? I decided it was time to put this cliché - and my 6-year-old nephew - under the microscope. It's time to find out if the little people really are more active than us grown-ups.

So armed with two Garmin Vivofit activity tracking bands, I set up the ultimate fitness band challenge to find out who would move more, burn more calories and take more steps: a 37-year-old office worker training for the Marathon Des Sables or a football-obsessed primary school kid, just going about his daily business?

The plan was simple. We wouldn't do anything out of the ordinary, just live our lives for 10 days. There was only one rule we had to follow, much to the disappointment of my nephew: it wasn't a competition. At the end of the 10 days we'd fire up our trusty wearables and they'd reveal all. This was science. Almost.

Man vs Child

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In any scientific study it's important to know your subjects. So here goes.

I'm a 37-year-old bloke who does a 60 minute train commute to an office where I work a 9-5 desk job, sitting in a chair for large parts of that time. I get up at 6.30am and I'm in bed by 11pm (most nights). In that respect I do a great impression of Average Joe.

Where I differ from most other men my age is that I'm currently training to take on the toughest footrace on Earth, the Marathon Des Sables. Six days in the Sahara desert, covering 156 miles, carrying 8.5kg of kit in temperatures that can hit 50 degrees. Why is this important? Because I'm hitting the gym or running hills seven times a week.

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My nephew Darcy is your typical 6-year-old boy. He goes to school, he plays football and even when he partakes in the ultimate 'kids-are-so-lazy-these-days' sin of playing on the Xbox, he's bouncing around like a he's just mainlined four bags of jelly babies. Like all kids of his age he appears to be in perpetual motion.

Darcy's routine is pretty standard too. He gets up at 7am, goes to bed at 7.30pm. He walks around a mile to and from school where he spends six hours of his day, including a 15 minute break in the morning and an hour for lunch. He plays football for an hour twice during the week, trains again on Saturday and plays a short game on Sunday.

So who's more active?

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Without wanting to sound like a competitive dad, the stats don't paint a pretty picture for 6-year-olds. Not when they're up against me.

On five of the ten days I logged more steps than Darcy. The clever among you will have done the sums and sussed out that also means on five days he logged more than me but that's not the point. One-nil the oldies.

And here are some more. Overall Darcy clocked an impressive 115,000 steps - a daily average of 11,500 steps but that was a long way off my ten-day total of 150,000.

Even with my Marathon Des Sables training, I honestly hadn't expected to be anywhere near as active but the stats don't lie.

Or do they?

The truth behind the stats

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The training regime I'm partaking gives me an obvious advantage, but when you dig deeper, the fight is even less fair.

Firstly, Darcy's step totals were nearly twice the average adult's. Jawbone's stats have shown that adults range between 6,500-7,500 steps a day in most states in the US, making it a big win for kids everywhere.

It's also especially harsh on poor Darcy, who suffered from a far from level playing field.

Unlike a 6-year-old, I choose when I go to bed. Most of the time anyway. That means I'm out of my bed for a full three hours longer than Darcy every night. That's a whopping 30 hours over the 10 days, or the equivalent of another day and a quarter.

And, let's not forget that he also only gets half an hour away from his desk at lunch where I get an hour.

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All of a sudden my totals don't look quite so good.

Dig deeper still and the picture gets even less rosey for me. Much of my active time comes in bursts at the same time every day. An hour of training with a bit of commute followed by long periods of not much at all. Some days I barely log any movement between 10am and 5pm.

Darcy on the other hand has a far more even spread. He's consistently clocking steps all day long from the moment he gets up to the moment he's tucked in.

There you have it. While it's far from scientific, what this does show is that there's hope for us thirty-somethings yet and that there's also plenty I can learn from my 6-year-old nephew. First, stop sitting here typing this and go outside and play.


How we test



Kieran Alger

By

Kieran is a world record-setting runner and one of the UK's most experienced running journalists.

A constant tester of the latest fitness technology, he's always hunting for innovations that can make him run faster, further and generally be in better shape.

Kieran is often found wearing four GPS running watches at once. And to date he's tracked more than 50 marathons, 13 ultras and countless half marathons - including the Marathon Des Sables.

In 2022, he became the first person to run the river Danube from sea to source, a measly 1,830 miles in 66 days. And still had time to test running gear.

Kieran regularly takes running tech to the extremes for Wareable and the likes of Runner's World, Mens Health and Wired.


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