The majority of parents understand that children need physical activity. We inherently know this from real-world experience with kids. Teachers often cite specific reasons, such as:
● Improved behavior (less "excess energy," fewer fights)
● Improved learning (more attentive in class, better retention of material)
● Healthier kids
Countless medical studies in the U.S. and around the world corroborate these beliefs that physical activity can improve behavior and learning for kids.
Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of children's need for physical activity, activity levels have declined dramatically. Historically, schools were one primary source of daily activity for kids. Today, however, only 4% of elementary schools in the U.S. provide daily physical education; 20% of elementary schools have even abolished recess. At home, the decline is equally dramatic. Kids are increasingly watching TV, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or swiping mobile devices. In fact, recent studies show that kids average 7 ½ hours per day consuming digital media -- about the same amount of time they spend in school!
This situation clearly didn't just develop overnight. Economic woes have forced many schools to cut programs, reduce staff for items like physical education, eliminate funding for new equipment, and decrease funds to maintain gyms or playgrounds. In some places, financial concerns have reduced school days for kids, resulting in further pressure to reduce physical activity to meet teaching goals. Finally, focus on test results has increased the pressure to reduce physical activity and increase classroom time (again, despite widespread studies that show improved performance and results with daily physical activity!). On the home front, we all understand very well the growth of digital media (and our kids' love for it).
Putting the potential educational and behavioral issues aside, the decrease in physical activity has had a substantial effect on children's health. Childhood obesity has more than doubled over the past 30 years; currently, over ⅓ of children are considered overweight or obese. The extra pounds have increased the risk of serious health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and orthopedic issues. The emotional toll can include low self-esteem, negative body image, and depression. Declining physical activity isn't the only culprit -- significant changes in food and beverage choices are also issues -- but less physical activity is a major factor. Today's kids are the first generation in history that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents!
What can you or I do to increase children's physical activity? Here are some ideas:
● Support teachers and school administrators in their quest to reinstate regular physical activity and recess in schools. Don't fall victim to the myth that replacing these with additional classroom time will improve academic performance -- research continues to show just the opposite!
● Help your school (teachers, administrators, or PTA) raise funds to provide these activities, even if they have to occur before or after school.
● Let your politicians know that you also support these efforts. Lots of efforts are underway on the local, state, and national level to increase children's physical activity, particularly at school. One great example is Georgia's "Power Up for 30" program, which is a joint effort by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Education, to encourage elementary schools to include 30 minutes of daily physical activity, in addition to regular physical education classes.
● It all starts at home… make sure your kids are getting the proper levels of physical activity every day! Get them outside playing sports, running in the park, or sweating on the playground. Almost every medical source (from the U.S. Center for Disease Control to the World Health Organization) recommends that children receive a minimum of 60 minutes per day of physical activity.
● Similarly, lead by example! Kids model behavior so make sure that you provide a good example, perhaps even joining them in activities.
● Make sure that your kids have indoor options -- at school and at home -- for those days when the weather doesn't cooperate (too hot, too cold, or pouring down rain). The added bonus is that these can also work for quick breaks, birthday parties, family events with lots of kids, or simply those early Saturday mornings (on the "rare occasion" that your kids may want to get up and active before you)!
I hope you find these facts and suggestions helpful. Equally important, I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Please post your thoughts on the Scholastic Parents Facebook page or find us on Twitter, @AdventureToFit!
Additionally, if you're looking for an indoor solution, I don't think you can beat Adventure to Fitness. It was developed to promote health and fitness for kids, while providing tons of educational content. As kids participate in the adventures, they move and learn… new vocabulary words, history, geography, science, etc. in each episode. The idea is to provide it in a cartoon-like fashion, comparable to the shows and activities kids already love, so that we're not battling them to participate. Parents and teachers often report that kids are learning and sweating without even realizing it! I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on our program too. Over 100,000 teachers -- not to mention a rapidly growing list of parents and medical professionals -- use it with their kids every week. They just might be onto something...