Posted on July 20 2018
Lifestyles have a huge effect on our health and well being. Western society is plagued by illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer, many of which are preventable. Obesity statistics from the House of Commons (Briefing paper 3336, January 2017) report that 27 percent of adults in England are obese, and a further 36 percent are overweight.
Rates of obesity have increased over the last decade so it is clear the situation is getting worse. What is really disturbing is what we are doing to our children. The Child Measurement Programme for Wales (2015/2016) reveals that 11.7 percent of children age four to five are obese, and 14.5 percent are overweight. This means that around a quarter of reception age children do not have a healthy weight.
We all know that being overweight is bad for us. It can lead to joint problems, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, endometrial cancer, breast cancer and bowel cancer (Briefing paper 3336, January 2017). So, it is vitally important that we all encourage and support our children in being to be active so that a healthy lifestyle becomes the habit of a lifetime.
How much exercise should children be doing?
Government guidelines recommend that all children and young people between the ages of five and 18 should carry out moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day. In addition to this, activities which strengthen muscles and bone should be performed on at least three days a week and the amount of time sitting still should be minimised. The types of activities that count include running, swimming, football, netball and cycling. These activities warm the body, make the heart beat faster and breathing quicker. Strengthening activities are those which use bodyweight or work against resistance, for example climbing, monkey bars, gymnastics, digging in the garden and carrying shopping.
What are the benefits of children being active?
Children need to be active. In addition to improving cardiovascular health and helping to maintain a healthy weight, physical activity offers many other benefits:
- Healthy bones. Our bones are living tissues, and they increase in mass until around age 30. There are many things that can affect our bone health, including hormones, diet and sun exposure. Exercise is really important in helping our bones to achieve optimal bone mass. Bones will respond to forces placed upon them by becoming stronger. If children and teenagers stay active, and do regular weight-bearing activities, this will help to make bones healthier.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D is involved in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These minerals are required for healthy muscles, bones and teeth. Although a small amount of Vitamin D is available in certain foods, sunlight is a fantastic way to get your daily dose as it enables the body to produce its own Vitamin D. Children exercising outside will reap the benefits of safe sun exposure.
- Social benefits. Children playing group sports will meet other children. This is a great way to promote friendships, improve confidence and help children to learn lifelong skills such as teamwork and communication.
- The American Council on Exercise1 reports that physical activity can also:
- Improve the quantity and quality of sleep.
- Promote improved school attendance and enhance academic performance.
- Promote greater self-esteem and better self-image.
- Lead to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and a better overall mood.
- Improve motor coordination and enhances the development of various motor performance skills.
Top Tips for Getting Children Active
- Incorporate activity into everyday life. Being active doesn’t mean that children need to join sports clubs or attend classes. There are many fun activities that can be done at home or in the great outdoors. Try walking or scooting to school instead of going by car, encourage children to play in the garden rather than watch television, take a trip the park, go on a family bike ride or have a disco in your lounge!
- Find a sport they enjoy. If children want to try a sport, the key thing is that it needs to be fun! We want children to enjoy being active rather than see it as chore. Let them try a few different activities so they can choose what they want to do. Children are much more likely to participate enthusiastically if it is something they’re keen to be involved in.
- Don’t put the children under any pressure. If children find an activity they love, let them do it for the pleasure of it. Don’t put them under pressure to enter competitions or take exams. They may choose to do this, which is fine, but always reinforce that it’s the taking part that counts.
- Be inspirational! Your children look up to you as their role model. If they see you being active, they will see it as part of life and are likely to want to join in.
- Don’t talk about weight. Never talk to your children about being too fat or too skinny, or don’t let them see you following unhealthy dieting fads. We want children to have a healthy relationship with their bodies. Talk about being healthy, fit and strong.
Children need to be active. Physical activity in childhood and adolescence has a myriad of benefits not just for physical health but also for mental health and overall wellbeing. It can also be an opportunity for you to spend quality time with your family doing something you all enjoy. So, get out there and get your hearts pumping!
Thank you to Dr. Emma Short for this blog contribution.