Lack of physical activity has reached crisis levels
We often think of not having enough time to exercise as an adult problem, but new research shows that children are affected by this issue, as well. A report released by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance in November stated that physical inactivity levels in children around the globe have reached crisis levels.
The report, which compared physical activity patterns of children in 49 countries and across six continents, showed that children are not active enough to maintain healthy growth and development. Seventy-five percent of countries analyzed received failing physical activity grades on country report cards produced by the experts involved.
Although some might find the results surprising, these trends are not new to Dr. Matthew Smiley, a pediatrician and medical director of the Healthy Active Living Program at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
“It is well documented that sedentary lifestyle and decreasing rates of physical activity are increasingly common in the U.S. and, not surprisingly, around the globe,” says Dr. Smiley.
Many factors contribute to an increase in sedentary lifestyles. In children, Dr. Smiley says a lack of resources and access to opportunities to participate in physical activities can contribute to developing this type of lifestyle, as can the amount of time children spend with screens. Dr. Smiley recommends children engage in no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time and that parents proactively think about how they’re going to regulate screen time. He suggests keeping screens out of the bedroom and away from the dinner table, setting time limits on tablet and video game usage and unplugging for a day as a family to engage in activities sans technology. Dr. Smiley also encourages parents to be role models around technology – if kids see parents engaging in excessive screen time, they will, too, and vice versa.
“It takes some planning and sitting down as a family to create some clearly defined rules around screen use; however, without this, screen time can get out of control in a hurry,” says Dr. Smiley.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages six and up get at least one hour of physical activity every day. Kids don’t have to exercise for an hour straight for it to be effective. For example, the sixty minutes can be broken up into ten minutes of jump rope, 30 minutes of playing in the park and 20 minutes of tag, frisbee or walking. Children under six can benefit from seeing their parents model a healthy lifestyle and engage in activities that encourage movement daily. When children don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, it can negatively impact their health.
“This increase in sedentary lifestyle is indeed dangerous, as it is associated with higher rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and shortened life span,” says Dr. Smiley.
Want to increase your child’s activity level? Follow Dr. Smiley’s tips for developing an active lifestyle:
- Be a role model! “Kids are more likely to live healthy, active lifestyles if they see their parents playing sports, exercising or being physically active every day,” says Dr. Smiley. Children tend to adopt the lifestyle that their parents demonstrate, so it’s important to model healthy habits.
- Plan ahead. Don’t only think a day ahead or week in advance, but think about how you plan to regulate activity and screen time throughout childhood. Dr. Smiley suggests creating rules around screen time early and sticking to them. On a day-to-day basis, he recommends parents plan days and times that their kids can be active and give them opportunities to do so. It may seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to set aside time to be active, but Dr. Smiley says if families make physical activity a priority and plan for it, it can happen.
- Find a fun activity to do together and play with your kids! We live in a busy society where many families are constantly running from place to place and often feel pressed for time. Amidst the busyness, make exercise a priority and find ways to get your kids excited and interested in participating. “The keys to being active and getting kids active are making it fun and making it a priority,” says Dr. Smiley. Take time to get together as a family to discover what fun activities you enjoy, and then schedule one or two of those activities in each week.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.