Run, baby, run: time to get physical

Think your kids haven’t been lazing about the house much? New information may just scare you straight — to the park with ball in hand.

By Heather Camlot

Do you remember what it was like to climb a tree? Jumping to reach that first branch, pulling yourself up with all your might, swinging one leg up and over, then moving higher and higher until you took a break, surveyed the landscape and grew a proud smile.

Now, when was the last time your kids climbed a tree? Or ran around the backyard chasing the dog? Or did any type of exercise for a prolonged period of time?

According to the first-ever Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines for Early Years, released last month, children age one to four should be active 180 minutes per day and children under one active several times a day.

Technology is impeding efforts to get kids up and moving. And a sedentary lifestyle, which research has shown to be as high as 73 to 84 percent of young children’s waking hours, hinders regular physical fitness and its positive effects, including bone and skeletal health, motor skill development, and of course healthy body weight.

We asked Allana LeBlanc, research coordinator for Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, which supported the new guidelines, to further explain technology’s effects on young children, the rise of sports video games and how to healthily integrate gadgets into our lives.  

How does technology affect our children’s physical activity levels?

Increases in the access and availability of different types of technology, such as the internet, TV, video games, smartphones, tablets, takes up time that may have previously been available for playing outdoors, playing with friends or engaging in more traditional physical activities and sports.

We’ve all seen kids we know “glued” to screens;  well, research supports the fact that technology-based devices such as video games also tend to promote sedentary behaviour, or prolonged sitting.  These devices are attractive and tempting to children and youth—in fact, many of them are purposefully targeted at kids, using animation, graphics and storylines that resonate with children.  Plus, kids may feel social pressure to try new games or devices because they’re seen as popular.

Overall, the rise in technology in our developed society keeps people indoors, where they have less opportunity to interact with nature or peers—both of which promote overall physical activity levels.  Even in so-called “active” video games, we’re seeing that technology may keep kids away from real-life experiences;  for instance, instead of going skiing, they’ll try it on a video game.

Is there any place for technology in getting our kids to move, i.e. Wii sports, kid-friendly pedometers, etc.?

If “active gaming” is replacing passive, or sedentary video game time, these games may be considered beneficial, but not if the active video-gaming is replacing outdoor activity or participation in real-life sports.

We know that active video games increase energy expenditure in the short term; however, we don’t know how these games affect energy intake or eating habits.  We also don’t know a lot about the long-term activity patterns of kids who play active games—for instance, do they stay more active overall, do they learn to adapt to the games over time?

Anecdotally, we know that active video games don’t keep people’s interest activities or increase overall energy expenditure when compared to authentic real-life sports.  There are some great web-based apps and pedometers that can help people be physically active by helping them to track their activities – these are helpful for some families, but unfortunately not all.

How should we then approach technology?

We do have to realize that technology is not going away!  Interacting with technology, playing video games and even watching TV are okay as long as these activities are done in moderation and in balance with adequate levels of authentic physical activity and social interactions.

According to the Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4 years), kids under two should be getting zero screen time and kids aged two to four should be getting no more than one hour per day.  For children and youth, the recommended limit is two hours per day.

First published April 16, 2012, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.

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