A 2015 survey by The Royal Children’s Hospital on what Australian adults consider to be the ‘biggest health problems in children and adolescents’ identified excessive screen time, obesity and not enough physical activity as the top three concerns.
Although there is limited quantitative data on the health effects of a sedentary lifestyle on children, it is evident to this PE teacher (and parent) that children’s fitness is on the decline.
An increasing number of kids have access to screens such as mobile phones, laptops, iPads or tablets which means there are more opportunities to find alternatives to physical activity.
The effect of ever-growing use of digital technologies on young people has our nation divided. In our current world, where technology is such an integral part of daily life, it can be difficult to ‘disconnect’ in order to ‘reconnect’ with our physical health. Even though digital literacy continues to gain momentum in educational settings and some aspects of interactive, digital programs can enable greater learning (particularly in children with learning difficulties), kids are spending more time in the virtual world and less time playing out in the yard and communicating face-to-face. There has been a correlation between excessive screen time and reduced levels of enjoyment in other activities, such as outdoor exercise and imaginative play. This has a negative impact on both physical and social-emotional wellbeing.
Conversely, the benefits of physical activity for children are numerous:
- Healthy growth and development
- Better self-esteem
- Stronger bones, muscles and joints
- Better posture and balance
- A stronger heart
- A healthier weight range
- Greater social interaction with friends
- Learning new skills while having fun
- Better focus and concentration during school
- Can help cope with stress
There are three main types of activities that promote healthy growth and development in children (and adults too).
Continuous movement that increases the heart rate and makes you work up a sweat.
- Scootering, skating, skateboarding
- Dancing, martial arts
- Swimming, jogging, skipping, cycling
- Hockey, football, soccer, basketball, tennis
- Rock or wall climbing, hiking
- Dodgeball, playing tag
Encouraging children (big and small) to bend and stretch, allowing them to participate in daily activities without pain or restriction from their muscles or joints. Flexibility promotes good posture, reduces muscle stiffness, increases relaxation and minimises the risk of injury.
- Active play on playground
- Digging in the garden or on the beach
- Raking leaves
- Gymnastics, dancing, rock or wall climbing
- Yoga, skipping, stretching routines
Working against a resistance to build stronger muscles. Adequate muscular strength allows people to deal with the demands of daily life without excessive stress on their muscles and joints.
- Lifting and carrying things like groceries, garbage and garden waste
- Raking leaves, climbing stairs
- Sit-ups and push-ups
- Adventure playground activities such as monkey bars, climbing ladders and scaling poles
- Calisthenics using own body weight as resistance or supervised exercises using tubing, bands and hand weights
Of course, these lists are not exhaustive and any physical activity which is similar will have the same result.
HOW CAN YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO
First and foremost, parents should set a good example for their children. If you are seen to be physically active, your kids are more likely to want to get involved. The old adage, ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ certainly applies to physical activity. See what fun exercise websites there are that the whole family can be involved in. Sometimes if something is online, kids will be more willing to give it a go. There are some amazing websites that have been designed by fitness professionals for all age levels.
Be sneaky! There are heaps of physical activities that, because they are so much fun, you forget that you’re exercising which distracts from the fact that they are helping you get fit. Get the kids into a team sport or an activity, like dance or gymnastics, that involves interact- ing with other kids, so that children see that other kids are involved. They’re more likely to think it’s ‘cool’ and want to participate plus it’s an excellent way to get kids socially interactive. In a world with an ever-changing landscape, we are forced to find inventive ways to get our kids (and ourselves) off the couch and involved in physical activity for physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Most importantly, have fun with your kids and enjoy the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.
Shawn Brack is a HPE Teacher and Sports Coordinator at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Parramatta Park