Modern lifestyles mean people sit more and move less, and this increases the risk for many diseases including heart disease. Now imagine for a minute your child’s life compared to your own childhood. Children in the 2000s are being introduced to cell phones, computers, tablets, and 24-hour children’s television – things you never knew! If you don’t take steps to keep your child active, this generation will be the first to have shorter lives than their parents.
Let’s look at why your child needs physical activity, how much is enough, and some ideas to use at home.
Exercise helps to strengthen bones, joints and muscles as they grow, creating resilient and mobile bodies. Exercise helps to strengthen the heart and the lungs, which prevents disease later in life. Physical activities also help to develop coordination and control over movements.
Physical activity supports a child’s psychological development, building self-esteem, providing opportunities of self-expression, assisting social development, and helping with control over anxiety.
Equally important, exercise helps to control body weight by burning energy we get from food. Most children are less active than children of previous generations, with more time spent sitting, whether it be at school or at home. Technology also means children are exposed to more ‘screen time’, including the computer screen, television screen and the cell phone screen. While technology has many benefits, screen time can impact on activity time and can lead to mindless eating while watching TV, leading to childhood obesity.
Finally, children who exercise regularly are less prone to tobacco and drug use, and more likely to reach their academic potential. In short, active kids are more likely to be healthy and well-adjusted, giving them the best start in life!
Encourage your baby to be as active as possible. Babies naturally want to explore the new exciting world and it’s the parent’s responsibility to help them to do this safely. Encourage them to push, pull, reach, move their limbs, and do tummy time.
Once your child can walk they should be active for at least 3 hours a day. This can include standing up, moving around, rolling, skipping, hopping, running and jumping, climbing, dancing, riding a bike or scooter, chasing and ball games.
Children are designed to move and they should not be immobile or have their movement restricted for long periods of time. Sitting in front of the TV, travelling in the car seat, being strapped into the buggy or walker should be limited to short periods at a time.
Aim for at least 1 hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity each day. This can be all at once like in a soccer practice session, or shorter stints during school breaks and play sessions that add up throughout the day. Even more is even better! Most activity should be aerobic – which means exercise that uses the lungs and heart, causes you to breath faster or become out of breath. It is also good for some of the activity during the week to strengthen muscles, such as active play, turning, jumping, and climbing.
Change starts at home and with you, the parent! Activity for the whole family such as walks, sports and games is very important to root behaviour into daily habits. Having fun together is very important to teach children that activity is enjoyable! Don’t make exercise a punishment but something to look forward to. Ensure activity is encouraged at school, and encourage active play when children play together with their friends.