Physical activity is important for people of all ages – including young people. Health Canada recommends that youth age 5-17 accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, yet only about 7% meet this standard. Today, the average Canadian child spends eight to twelve hours a day sitting down. Since 1990, the number of overweight school-aged children has tripled, and the problem is only getting worse. Now, more than ever, kids need sport and active play.
The benefits of activity in children extend beyond maintaining a healthy body weight. Physical activity boosts self esteem and confidence and helps children meet new friends. Exercise improves muscle strength, bone density, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Further, the healthy habits formed as a child pave the way to a healthy and active adulthood.
Healthy habits are learned – children are not born knowing what foods are nutritious, or that the body needs exercise to stay healthy. As a parent, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on your child’s health. There is much you can do to encourage your children to be active.
Be active yourself. When encouraging your children to be active, keep in mind that what you do is more important than what you say. In other words, if you want your children to be active, you need to be a positive role model and be active as well. This doesn’t mean you have to spend long hours at the gym – simply going for a brisk walk on most days of the week or being conscious of your own food choices are steps in the right direction.
Make it a family matter. In addition to your own workout routine, strive to be active as a family. Walk short distances with your children instead of driving, or play active games with your children. Plan active outings for the whole family such as a bike ride along the Vedder River, a short hike, or a game of tag at the park. Refer to physical activity as an opportunity for fun instead of as a chore. Finally, set limits on television, video games and internet for all family members.
Encourage all types of physical activity for your children. Many kids thrive on team sports or dance classes in the community to stay fit. However, organized sports or classes are not the only ways to keep active. All physical activity, not just structured programs, is beneficial. Some alternatives to sports include dancing to music in the living room, walking the dog, playing at the park, jumping on a trampoline, or swimming. Try different activities until you find one that your child enjoys. It may be simply walking to the library to find a good book, or jumping rope in the backyard. Check out the Cheam and Landing Leisure Centres and the YMCA for youth programs in the area.
Be active all year round. It’s easy to be active on warm, summery days, but we are partial to staying indoors when it gets wet outside. Physical activity is important on all days – not just the sunny ones. On rainy days, you can shield yourself in rain gear and play outside in the puddles. If the rain is enough to make you want to stay inside, go to the pool for some indoor play. Other activities such as table tennis or hide and seek can also be played indoors.
For more information on Physical Activity for Children, go to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Website at www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/index.html.
Tanja Shaw is a Kinesiologist and personal trainer, specializing in weight loss, group fitness, pre and postnatal fitness, and health and wellness programs. She owns Ascend Fitness Coaching, which offers Boot Camps, mom and baby fitness classes and personal training in the Chilliwack area. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.