How to get kids moving
Tablets and smartphones making your kids lazy and sluggish? Here’s how parents and teachers can get children to hop, skip and jump their way to better health
IT STARTED off as a simple plan to get the kids in her school moving and turned into a multi-country, multi-school initiative. And it takes just 15 minutes a day.
Elaine Wyllie, then principal of a primary school in Scotland, was worried about the lack of exercise the kids in her school were getting. But it took a volunteer physical education teacher to spur her into action.
“Your children aren’t fit,” he told her. And if they weren’t fit in their primary school years, the future didn’t bode well for them.
That same afternoon Elaine told a physical education class to run a lap around the sports field and she was stunned by the results.
“By the end most of them were doubled up and had a stitch,” she recalls. “It was a shocking sight.”
She then implemented a new rule: each day all the children would spend 15 minutes outside doing activities that would build their fitness.
A month later almost all the kids at St Ninian’s Primary School could run steadily for 15 minutes without stopping. It was the beginning of the Daily Mile, a concept of taking a quarter of an hour of classroom time every day to let the kids run or walk laps of the playground. This was six years ago and today the initiative has spread to more than 3 600 primary schools in 35 countries including Belgium, Canada, Australia and Croatia.
A study was recently conducted into the benefits of the Daily Mile and the results were impressive.
Researchers looked at 391 children from two primary schools in Scotland, monitoring them for seven months after they started the Daily Mile.
They found active kids could run 5% further in a timed run and that the programme encouraged them to generally be more active throughout the day.
Given the number of overweight kids in South Africa, it’s an initiative that would go down well here too.
OBESITY levels in South Africa are alarming by any measure. The latest SA Demographic and Health survey found that 13% of children are overweight or obese – double the global average of 6%. Professor Alta Schutte of the SA Medical Research Council says overweight kids “have a slim chance of being lean as they age”.
“Excess body weight is a huge problem globally and especially in SA – we’re drowning at the moment,” she says.
“If you’re obese as a child, the number of total fat cells in the body increases and stays the same when you get older. In lean children the number of fat cells is lower, which gives them a much better chance of remaining lean as they age.”
Tackling the problem early on could prevent the rise of obesity rates, she adds. SA has the highest overweight and obesity rates in Africa with a staggering 70% of women tipping the scales at a heavier weight than they should be.
So what can you do to ensure your kids get of f the couch and start thinking of exercise as part of daily life? HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS NEEDED? Preschoolers (aged 3-5) should be active for at least three hours a day spread throughout the day, says Nadia Greyling of the Trifocus Fitness Academy in Johannesburg. “These three hours should include vigorous activity such as running and jumping. Active play is the best way for young kids children to be physically active.” Six- to 12-year-olds need at least an hour of physical activity a day. Most of the specified hour should consist of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercises such as a brisk walk, a bike ride or a game of rugby, soccer or netball.
Children should also participate in muscle-, core- and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week. MAKE IT FUN Things were easier in “the old days” – parents could tell their kids to go and ride their bikes around the block or run to the shop. But safety is an issue now. “However, there are many controlled parks where people can run, walk, play on equipment and ride bikes,” Greyling says. Have them take part in cycling competitions or kid-friendly races such as a local Parkrun, or suggest joining a club or organisation that gets you active together. There are also fun ways to get moving indoors. “Dancing is always fun and it warms you up when it’s cold,” Greyling recommends. “Play your kids’ favourite songs and they’ll be dancing in no time.” Simon McQueen, creator of the organisation Fit Kids, says parents should get involved too “and at least look like they’re enjoying it! Young kids love having their parents’ attention so if you want to instil a positive attitude towards exercise, get stuck in too.” MAKE IT ENTERTAINING
Play follow-the-leader where your kids have to imitate your movements, or have animal races where you all have to hop like a bunny or canter like a horse.
Pillow fights are a great cardio workout.
Play pushover parents. Plant your feet steadily on the ground and get your kids to try to push you over.
Do the bubble-wrap pop. Lay a sheet of bubble wrap on the ground and tell the kids to jump on it until all the bubbles are popped.
You can also get them to do these core-strengthening exercises: The bridge. Have your child lie on their back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tell them to push hard through their heels to raise their bottom off the ground, keeping their head and shoulders on the ground. See if they can hold the position for a count of 20 and give them a reward if they do.
The Superman. Get them to lie on their tummies on the floor and raise their arms and chests off the ground. When they can progress to raising their feet off the ground too, they get a prize.
Climbing trees and jungle gyms are great bone-strengthening exercises too, but you can also do these in the living room with your kids:
Push-ups with knees on the floor – again, give them a number to reach and a reward once they’ve reached it. Gymnastics. You don’t have to enrol your kid in a class – turn the lounge or the garden into an obstacle course. Put a strong plank between two chairs (with an old mattress or a few cushions underneath) and get them to balance across it.
Make them practise somersaults on the sofa then leap into the air once they’re done. Find a strong tree branch and get them to dangle from it, then see how high they can raise their legs. BE SNEAKY Consider treating your child to a wearable activity tracker for their birthday or Christmas ( prices start at around R400) which records how many steps they do a day. This will feed into their tech obsession and trick them into moving more! S See page 44 for more tips for a healthy lifestyle.