Get­ting kids off the couch

Cape Times - - FRONT PAGE - Helen In­gle and Su­san Coan

GET­TING chil­dren off the sofa, away from the TV and out­side can be a chal­leng­ing task for any par­ent, par­tic­u­larly in the age of in­creas­ingly seden­tary and screen-fo­cused lives.

To stay healthy, it is rec­om­mended that chil­dren do at least 60 min­utes of mod­er­ate to vig­or­ous phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity daily. But this has been in de­cline in re­cent years. And now only 21% of boys and 16% of girls are meet­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions.

This lack of ac­tiv­ity has ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for chil­dren’s health, in­clud­ing an in­creased risk of obe­sity and di­a­betes. Re­search has also shown that this can im­pact chil­dren’s men­tal health and well-be­ing with their aca­demic per­for­mance.

Chil­dren’s phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity lev­els are in­flu­enced by an ar­ray of fac­tors, in­clud­ing friends and fam­ily, schools and teach­ers, and the area in which they live. To help bet­ter un­der­stand the fac­tors that can help or hin­der the phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity lev­els of chil­dren to­day, my col­leagues and I re­cently con­ducted a study to ex­plore the bar­ri­ers chil­dren face when it comes to be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive.

As part of the re­search, we spoke to 133 chil­dren be­tween the ages of 7 and 11 in schools in Eng­land and Wales. We dis­cov­ered two main bar­ri­ers for chil­dren when it comes to ex­er­cise – screen time and hec­tic fam­ily life­styles. Two things we are sure many par­ents can re­late to.

With this in mind, we have out­lined be­low some ways you can over­come these ob­sta­cles and help get your chil­dren more ac­tive.

Change the way chil­dren use screen time

Many of the chil­dren in the study re­ported hav­ing ac­cess to a wide range of screen op­tions such as com­put­ers, tablets and mo­bile phones. And many of them talked about the ad­dic­tive na­ture of be­ing on screens – say­ing that they can of­ten while away hours at a time. One child told us how his nor­mal week­end usu­ally in­volved a high amount of screen time.

“Nor­mally, at week­ends, I just wake up, watch TV. Then at nine in the morn­ing I start play­ing video games, and when I have to come off, I just watch TV. Then, a lit­tle while later I go back on the video games. And then I nor­mally watch a movie off Net­flix, off my tablet And then straight after that I play video games. And that’s what I do. And some­times I go to the park.”

Screen time is a sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to chil­dren be­ing ac­tive, and can be ad­dic­tive – but it doesn’t all have to be bad news. Set­ting screen time lim­its can help reg­u­late chil­dren’s us­age. You can also en­cour­age chil­dren to use their screens, apps and gad­gets in a pos­i­tive way to help get them mov­ing. This can in­clude the use of pe­dome­ters or ac­tiv­ity track­ers, which can help to mon­i­tor and in­crease ac­tiv­ity lev­els and track progress along the way.

Be a role model

Sup­port and en­cour­age­ment from fam­ily mem­bers is really im­por­tant.

Our re­search showed that this isn’t just about be­ing able to buy ex­pen­sive equip­ment or driv­ing chil­dren to af­ter­school ac­tiv­i­ties and sports clubs – it’s about set­ting a good ex­am­ple of how to live an ac­tive life.

This in­cludes re­in­forc­ing the ben­e­fits of be­ing ac­tive, and get­ting chil­dren into ac­tive habits from a young age.

Get­ting out­doors and in na­ture can be a great way to get chil­dren to see the ben­e­fits of be­ing fit and healthy. This can in­clude vis­its to green spa­ces, parks, play­grounds, walks and cy­cle tracks as part of your every­day fam­ily life.

Don’t let bad weather stop you ei­ther – take a rain­coat and wellies and show the kids that come rain or shine the out­doors is al­ways an op­tion.

En­cour­age chil­dren to use their screens, apps and gad­gets in a pos­i­tive way to help get them mov­ing

Make the time

Mod­ern-day fam­ily life can be hec­tic, and it can feel like a chal­lenge to find the time and en­ergy to be ac­tive.

Our re­search re­vealed that many fam­i­lies could do with a bit of help and sup­port to find ways to build ac­tiv­ity into their lives. One child we spoke to told us how:

“I want to be more ac­tive be­cause me and my mum used to go for three-mile runs, but for some rea­son she keeps for­get­ting, and I keep try­ing to re­mind her but she’s al­ways busy.”

A few small changes to daily rou­tines and a bit of for­ward plan­ning can make all the dif­fer­ence.

Things such as stop­ping off at the park on the way home from school for 15 min­utes – or chil­dren walk­ing or cy­cling when­ever pos­si­ble. Fam­i­lies can also find ways to be ac­tive in­doors, in­clud­ing danc­ing and ac­tive video games.

These might sound like small changes, but taken to­gether they can have a big im­pact on chil­dren’s health and well-be­ing. – This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in The Con­ver­sa­tion

IN­FLU­ENCES: The two main bar­ri­ers when it comes to ex­er­cise are screen time and hec­tic fam­ily life­styles, finds a study.

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