Children—just the word brings images of kids playing, running, and jumping; they are little balls of energy. Although there are universal images in most of our minds of how children naturally behave, researchers are seeing something else. Studies are showing that by 2030, 42% of the American population will be obese (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2012); physical inactivity of today’s children and youth will play a role in this obesity incline. Families play an important role in developing active habits; just by being themselves, parents are influencing their child’s development of habits. Dr. Faigenbaum and Dr. Myer, recommend that parents “be cognizant of the long-term consequences of physical inactivity, and should reduce television viewing, promote daily physical activity, and serve as active role models” (2012); this may seem easier said than done. There are four steps a parent can follow to increase their child’s physical activity to promote long term health: understand the importance, know how active the child really is, present opportunities, and be a role model.
Step One: Understanding the Importance
Whether or not children are exposed to an environment filled with opportunities for physical activity will have an impact on their lifestyle forever. Dr. Faigenbaum and Dr. Myer have determined that physical activity is so important that they suggest children or youth with low levels of physical activity should be treated with the seriousness of other conditions such as hypertension. (2012) Exercise deficit disorder (EDD) is used to describe a “condition characterized by reduced levels of regular physical activity that are below recommendations consistent with positive health outcomes.” (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2012) The best medicine to prevent EDD or to cure EDD is to move more, play more, and sit less—yes, exercise is medicine. Physical activity is a learned behavior (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2012); children that are exposed to physical activity will have a higher chance of developing lifelong active habits. Children that do not receive enough opportunities to develop their physical literacy (running kicking, jumping, etc.) are less likely to participate in physical activity as they get older, this decline begins as young as age six (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2012). In addition to creating active habits, children that are provided with enough opportunities to play and develop those fundamental skills will likely grow into teenagers or adults that are confident and comfortable enough to participate in various types of physical activity and exercise. Avoiding EDD by getting kids to be active as soon as possible will develop life long active habits and decrease their likelihood of struggling with health conditions as a result of inactivity.
Step Two: Know How Active Your Child Really Is
It is important for parents to have an accurate understanding of how active their child really is before taking action. Parents play a big role but may be surprised of how active or inactive their children are once they take the time to make a schedule that records physical activity. It is important to consider how often gym class is, what the kids do at daycare or/and recess, their form of transportation, and how they spend their weekends. Adding up the minutes of each day during the week is a great start in getting an accurate understanding. In addition to seeing how active they are, it is important to note how sedentary they are as well—recording their screen time (television, video games, movies, iPad, phones, etc.), forms of transportation, and class time. Seasons are also something to consider when recording a child’s activity; some may believe that summer time promotes more play time, but, without school to provide gym class or recess, it may actually decrease play time. Comparing the total amount of minutes each day to the global health recommendation of 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day (Faigenbaum & Myer, 2012) will give an accurate understanding of how active the child is—keep in mind that it is 60 minutes or MORE.
Step Three: Present Opportunities
Once a schedule has been developed that shows the physical activity of each day, it can be used as a visual to find opportunities to increase physical activity. There may be various hours throughout a day where there is no activity, this is an opportunity for the child to go for a walk, use socks and a laundry basket to play “basketball”, or play tag. Another way to look for opportunities is to reduce screen time; in addition to promoting sedentary behavior, screen time has negative effects on health independent of physical activity (Chaput, Carson, Gray, & Tremblay, 2014). It is recommended that children under two have no screen time while children older than two can have 1 – 2 hours of screen time (Kaneshiro & Zieve, 2013); comparing a child’s screen time to those guidelines will help identify if screen time is an opportunity for play time. Getting active does not mean spending money; use resources from the internet or books to find at home activities that are enjoyable for the whole family. Keep in mind that physical activity is a learned behavior, providing a child with the option of one type of physical activity versus another type of physical activity will allow the child to develop those active habits and enjoy it.
Step Four: Be a Role Model
“Practice what you preach,” it may be a hackneyed phrase but could not be more important when it comes to children. As a parent, living an active and healthy life is not only beneficial for oneself, it is also an ideal environment for a child to develop lifelong healthy habits. Parents should lead by example and find physical activity that they enjoy while avoiding sedentary behavior, this will develop a healthy home for parents and children. Even better, physical activity is a great bonding opportunity for the entire family; after all, spending quality time with loved ones is just as important for health as physical activity is.
Getting children to develop those active habits as soon as possible will create an impact on their life forever, and will decrease their chances of suffering from health conditions due to inactivity. Children should be encouraged to play now so they can reap the benefits forever.
By: Scarlet Vargas
Faigenbaum, A.D. & Myer, G.D. (2012). Exercise Deficit Disorder in Youth: Play Now or Pay later. American College of Sports Medicine, 11(4), 196-200.
Chaput, J.P., Carson, V., Gray, C.V., & Tremblay, M.S. (2014). Importance of All Movement Behaviors in a 24 Hour Period for Overall Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(12), 12575 – 12581. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph111212575
Kaneshiro, N.K., & Zieve, D. (2013). Screen Time for Children. Medicine Plus. A Service of the U.S. National Library of Health. Retrieved from: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000355.htm