There’s no getting around it: Children need physical activity. Years of research have shown that kids should be getting no fewer than 60 minutes of physical exercise each day, yet most aren’t even coming close to that number.
Children who partake in one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day are stronger, more confident, and less stressed. They have healthier body weights, perform better academically, and have a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the rates of which have risen steadily over the past decade, especially in children.
Shockingly, 9 out of 10 children do not meet this guideline. Given enough time to play, you would think that they could easily hit that target.
Why Is This Happening?
There are many factors that contribute to this issue, with no one person or structure solely to blame. We could point to schools, parents, the media, and technology, and all might be correct, but this is a complex issue with many contributing factors.
Changes need to be made across the board if we want healthier, happier kids. We saw what happened with the school in Texas that tripled their recess time and saw major improvements.
Are Children in Other Countries Getting Enough Physical Activity?
A recent comparison of children’s activity in 38 countries showed a far different approach.
Of the countries studied, Slovenia had the most active children, with the majority of both boys and girls meeting the national standards. Slovenian schools offer 77 minutes of physical activity, taught by professionals, each day, and the results speak for themselves. Schools have a responsibility to get kids up and active, and this is just as — if not more — important than what is being taught in the classroom.
Why Don’t We See This in North America?
There are many contributing factors at play here. Budgets are tight, teachers are short on time and resources, and many parents value academic success over physical activity. But it’s a shortsighted view of success.
Fortunately, more people are finally recognizing just how important it is for children to be getting enough physical activity.
Instead of leaving it up to the school board to implement changes, which won’t happen quickly, there are many steps that both students and parents can take right now to ensure that their children are getting enough exercise. If we want to ensure their current and future physical and mental well-being, we need to do this now.
Steps Towards Adequate Activity
1. Make It a Priority
Parents and teachers alike need to put more emphasis on movement, and it should not be the type of thing that happens only if there is time left over, which sends the message that it’s not as importan. Despite taking time away from the classroom, increased physical activity will help children to excel school. Regular physical activity offers many benefits, including improved memory, focus, and problem solving skills, all of which will inevitably lead to better grades.
2. Rethinking Gym Class
Much of the limited gym class time is often spent standing and listening to instruction. Active games might be a better option — anything that gets the heart pumping is ideal here. Teaching kids fundamental movement skills such as running, kicking, and throwing will only help them in the future, and these take less time to explain. And stressing that these skills can be used outside the gym class may get more kids on board sooner.
3. Add Movement Into Lessons
Some teachers have found success with adding exercise equipment into the classroom. In Saskatoon, Canada, teachers noticed an improvement in concentration after adding a couple of stationary bikes to the classroom. Standing desks have also been implemented successfully. Bored kids are unruly kids, so this only makes sense.
4. Use Screens to Our Advantage
Let’s face it: Screens are here to stay, and will only become a greater part of kids’ lives as they age. So why not use them to their advantage, and get kids to try apps that promote activity? Wii Fit is just one example of many. Incorporating some friendly competition, like seeing who can take the most steps in a day by tracking them on a pedometer or FitBit, is another effective strategy.
5. Use Simple Tactics
Daily Mile is a simple and free initiative that has been gaining momentum in the UK and across Europe. According to their website:
The Daily Mile is simple and free. We want to get children fit for life and fit for learning by encouraging them to run, walk or jog for 15 minutes every day in their schools or nurseries. It is a physical activity which promotes social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing, as well as fitness. It takes place outside in the fresh air during the school day at a time of the teacher’s choosing. Children run in their school clothes and no special kit or equipment is required.
Hopefully this simple trend catches on in North America, too!
6. Whenever Possible, Encourage Healthy Behaviour
Physical education classes, more recess time, sports teams, after school activities — these are all opportunities to get children excited about physical activity. Highlight the benefits of exercise to help children to understand why it’s important and how it can help them in all areas of their lives. Encourage them to use their lunch hour playing sports, running around, doing yoga, or anything else that gets them moving rather than sitting.
Getting kids to reach a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day should be easy, and if you do some of it with them, you just might help them build healthy habits that last a lifetime.