For today’s kids, it can be a real challenge to get enough exercise. Not so long ago kids weren’t overburdened with academic work or tethered to devices. They spent a majority of their time playing outside with their friends. Now children are expected to know letters, colours, numbers, shapes and much more before they even start school.
Parents have the responsibility of setting up playdates if they want their child to interact with other kids. In addition, devices like televisions, cell phones, and tablets offer a siren call to children and provide a convenient way for parents to keep their children occupied.
All of these things add up to sedentary children who are prone to future obesity and other health problems.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?
Government recommendations suggest that toddlers and preschoolers get three hours of physical activity every day. This may seem like a lot, but don’t despair, it can and should be broken up throughout the day. Nobody expects a two-year-old to do non-stop calisthenics for three hours!
Other sources indicate a potentially more achievable, two hours of activity should be the minimum that kids are getting, split evenly between 60 minutes of structured exercise and 60 minutes of free play.
If you know that your family is only getting 30 minutes of exercise regularly, aim for increasing your exercise time to at least the two-hour minimum. If you can’t imagine where you will get the extra time from, you should probably start by really adding up your screen time.
For young children no more than one hour a day of screen time is recommended. Most families could probably decrease screen time by an hour and use that hour for physical activity instead. It happens in my family all of the time. I turn on the television with the best intentions of only letting them watch two shows (usually about 25-30 minutes per show.)
The problem is when those two shows are over, the next one on the video or the streaming service just starts. Then they start begging to watch it and I think of the laundry I have half folded on the bed and I just give in and let them watch one more. It happens to all of us.
Keep in mind that all activity counts. If your child goes to a daycare or preschool they are undoubtedly getting physical activity as part of their day. Most schools and childcare centres offer at least one outdoor playtime per day. Many catering to younger children have two outdoor playtimes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
When you are searching for a centre make sure you ask about their policy on physical activity and playtime. If you live somewhere with changeable weather you should also find out what they do when they can’t go outside to play.
5 Ways Physical Activity Assists Growth and Development
1. It ingrains the habit of being active
In general, our kids grow up behaving in ways that reflect what they understand to be normal. If they habitually sit around watching television for hours it will become more and more difficult to break that habit. On the other hand, if they have always been active, involved in sports and playing outside they are much more likely to simply continue that behaviour.
2. Activity reduces obesity
Proper nutrition and adequate activity levels go together to help combat obesity. Children who become overweight are destined to have weight issues for the rest of their lives. This added weight can cause serious health issues and chronic problems like asthma, arthritis, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
3. Team sports teach important social skills
When your child participates in a team sport they can learn critical skills like how to take turns, the importance of cooperation, how to accept losing, and how to win graciously.
4. Playing outside offers many benefits in addition to simply physical activity
Studies have shown that kids need more of the vitamin D they get from playing outside. In addition being in nature reduces stress, and helps children deal more effectively with anxiety and depression.
5. Physical activity helps children do better academically
It has been shown that having the ability to engage in movement throughout the day assists children in doing better with their studies. Consequently, schools that cut physical education classes or reduce play time are actually hurting their students. In fact, it decreases their ability to concentrate at other times.
Ideas to Increase Activity
Getting more activity into your children’s day has to be a partnership between parents, kids, and schools. When we are crunched for time it can seem difficult to figure out what to do, but there are plenty of ways that parents can increase the daily activity level in their families and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.
- Turn off the screens and go outside. As we discussed already, playing outside is critical for so many reasons. This is also a free and very easy way to add more movement to your day.
- Go for a walk. Walking has all of the same benefits as playing outside. Walking as a family gives you the chance to get some exercise too. In addition, it can be a great learning opportunity. Point out flowers, cats, dogs, birds, and anything else interesting you see along the way.
- Go swimming. Most kids love the water. Many areas have low-cost pools, in parks, schools, and community centres where the whole family can cool off in the summer or take a break from the weather in the winter.
- Do yoga. Yoga is a great activity because it doesn’t need a ton of space. You can do it right in the living room of your house. Get a video from the library or follow a video on-line. Another option if you want to get out of the house is to go to a class. Many places offer “Mommy & Me” yoga classes for toddler and preschool age children and their parent.
- Have a dance party. Remember a few years ago there was that big movie with the two princesses who had some issues with freezing things? Play the song from that and encourage your kids to bounce around. Let them put on their princess dresses first if they want to. This works for boys too. I walked into my kids daycare one day and they were all wearing princess dresses and dancing around, boys included (My son insisted he was Anna. He was actually wearing Snow White, but I decided not to argue with him!) Really, just throw on any song with a good beat and let them bring their creativity.
- Go to a playground. Playgrounds are great because there are usually other kids there for your kids to play with. This means that you can relax a bit and just keep an eye on them. Or you can play too if you want to!
- Let them bounce on the bed. If you have young children and you are stuck inside due to bad weather this can be a way to let off some steam. The bouncing is a great cardio workout, think of it like the poor man’s trampoline place. Just obviously make sure that your bed is sturdy and that children are supervised. (I know you secretly want to jump too!)
- Join an organised sport. For slightly older kids there are plenty of different choices for organised team sports. Even for kids as young as 18 months, there are parent-child groups for things like football and rugby. Don’t expect that little Timmy will actually be playing these sports, but they will work on coordination and basic skills that are fun for kids and will help them get prepared to play in the future.
Getting enough exercise is critically important for children’s growth and development. Unfortunately, most kids have a difficult time meeting the minimum standard of at least two hours a day of physical activity. For busy parents, it can be tough to figure out how to include more movement into their child’s schedule. Making it a focus of the entire family can help get results.
The good news is you can approach it however you choose to. If you want to put your child in a different organised activity every day after school you can. If you just want to open the back door and tell them to “go play” you can do that too. The thing to remember is that physical activity benefits them in so many ways, from increasing concentration, to ingraining healthy habits, to reducing obesity. They really can’t do without it.
At Harmony we provide indoor & outdoor free play times that will help meet your child’s need for physical activity each day. Want to take a look for yourself? Please contact us to schedule a meeting or book a tour to see if Harmony is the right fit for your child!