The results of last years physical activity report card for children and young people, scored of D-for Australia, which incidentally was the global average. Initiated by The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, this report card’s aim is to increase physical activity in children and youth globally.
In a country with such easy access to the great outdoors, there seems little excuse for such a poor result. Perhaps it is because our standard of living has increased which has lead to a decrease in the need for manual effort. For example cars have seen kids less likely to walk or ride to school and appliances have taken tasks that would otherwise be a designated chore. Although these conveniences equate to more free time for kids and teenagers, a less active daily life has seen it filled with more sedentary behaviour.
There is so much to distract us from getting up and about, with children seeking more screen time on phones and computers. After all if a device provides entertainment, why look further than the lounge room. Also smaller back yards and a long list of worries beyond the front gate, has seen the days of roaming freely become a thing of the past.
It is true that Physical Education and sport are part of the school curriculum, yet this only makes up a couple of hours a week and participation can be optional. Sports outside of school will vary in the degree and duration of physical exertion, and although the session may go for an hour, some of this time will be spent on instruction or kids waiting their turn. So although time has been devoted to activities, the accumulation of the recommended 60 minutes a day will be hard to reach for some kids.
This increasingly sedentary lifestyle is not a surprise to most, yet what to do about it is the impetus behind such organisations as the previously mentioned global alliance.
Improving the physical activity grades
The National Physical Activity Recommendations for children and young people encourages the accumulation of ‘at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day’.
So who is responsible for improving the physical grades? Some would argue the government needs to invest more in a social campaign to encourage exercise or that schools should offer more sporting programs, whilst others look towards parents doing away with sedentary habits to set a better example. However complex and varied the causes, ideally the answer would be that responsibility for the health of all children is a collective effort.
One thing we do know is that that no-one cares more for a child’s wellbeing than the parent, so regardless of the national score or who is responsible, advancing the physical activity of a child is best started from home. Through collaboration with other parents it is possible to make changes that may also inspire others to do the same.
So what to do about this lack of exercise
A good start is to simply refuse to rush around. Being so over scheduled, kids need time to just be kids, and play. Hanging out with their mates before and after school for a quarter of an hour would fill part of their daily activity quota.
It is important that there is a variety of exercise. For example going for a swing on the monkey bars is a good resistance exercise to build muscle and tendon strength for the prevention of injury. Running around playing tag with some mates helps with cardio fitness. Even kicking a ball with the kids can assist in the development of their motor skills.
If possible cycling or walking to school is a great start to the day. For those who drive or are time restricted, a family ‘7 minute scientific workout‘ can be easily achieved before breakfast. Whatever you choose, making it part of a daily routine is great for kids, especially if they tasked with reminding the adults to do their exercise.
As they get older these activities may need adjusting but can still be a good opportunity to bond, for example jogging, walking or cycling together whilst listening to what happened during the day. Once they are looking for a bit more independence with exercise organising a gym membership or just supporting them at their local sporting event will nurture healthy, active habits as they progress into adulthood.
All kids are different, some preferring team sports, others solo pursuits. Some prefer neither, in which case more effort and creativity will be needed to entice them away from books and screens. This is where incidental exercise such as walking the dog, helping with the gardening or riding their bike to a mates place, can add up and contribute to their daily exercise quota. It may also lead them onto a path where they find a physical activity that resonates, thus building confidence to take on other pursuits.
Of course the earlier any activity is started, the greater the chance children have of developing the physical aptitude to pursue other activities. For example encouraging throwing, kicking and catching from an early age will build hand eye co-ordination and subsequently the confidence to join in sporting activities.
Some tips for kids to avoid injury
Robust and fearless as they can be, kids still need direction. Although it is tempting to highlight injuries in youth that have caught up with us later in life, it is likely that this sage like advice will be forgotten quickly. Instead taking preventive steps will offer kids some protection.
A good posture, whether sitting of standing, is a great place to start, especially since children’s musculoskeletal systems are immature and still growing. Simply sitting up straight and avoiding slumping with a ‘C’ shaped back is easy to instil, as is having regular breaks from sitting every twenty minutes. Encouraging correct ergonomic postures can help when applied to other activities such as riding or running, and has the bonus of improving performance.
Having an adjustable chair and monitor to achieve the correct ergonomic posture is a common request within physiotherapy, and these principles can be applied to exercise machines or the use of other sporting equipment. Asking your physiotherapist specific advice relating to your child’s activities is a good preventive measure, as achieving a good posture whilst exercising will build support for those sedentary pursuits.
If riding to school, a backpack that is properly fitted and weighted evenly, will make a big difference. So too will good quality runners with arch support, reducing shock and strain on the body.
Increasing a child’s activity levels can not only develop greater physical skills but provide a bonus to their mental health. After all, getting out and about is one way for family bonds to be strengthened and a great opportunity to make new friends.