Help Your Kids Make the Shift from Sedentary to Active

by | May 7, 2016

kids around wading pool in the 1970sYou’ve probably seen more than one of those social media posts that compares childhood in the 1970s to childhood today – listicles like this one. And this.

Most seem to focus on the apparent lack of concern for safety – why kids of the 70s “should all be dead,” as the typical title puts it – but there’s another pattern that appears, too. A more interesting pattern.

So many of the activities listed involve physical activity – playing all day, roaming the neighborhood, running free (so long as you were home in time for dinner, natch), engaging in all kinds of outdoor fun.

That’s a far cry from the indoor, sedentary, screen-centric habits so common today.

Cultivating a Sit-Down Culture

boy sitting stillResearch has shown that preschoolers now spend less than 4% of their school day in moderate to vigorous physical activity. For “more than 85% of the observation time” of one study, “the children were engaged in either very light activity or sedentary behaviors.”

Is it any surprise these patterns carry into high school? A study last year in Pediatrics found that teens were physically active barely 40 minutes of each day. Most of that happens while they’re in school. Only 10% meet the minimum daily recommendation of 60 minutes of exercise.

And thus, by adulthood, as noted in a recent piece in the New York Times, barely 20% meet the minimum activity guidelines. Even if more were meeting that goal, the amount of sitting we do has a powerful negative impact on health. One 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who sat more than 11 hours a day had a 40% greater risk of death than those who sat 4 hours a day or less.

Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.

Clearly, we need to encourage and enable our youth to move more. It’s the surest way to improve those last sad stats, creating healthy habits to last a lifetime.

Changing the Pattern

kids exploring outdoors Creating or allowing more opportunities for outdoor play and exploration can help lay the ground for new routines. With physical activity more the norm, it’s easier to make it a regular part of any day. Kids learn they can have fun and adventure away from screens – will have more ideas to draw from for things to do.

Of course, it’s not just kids who need to move more but all of us. There are lots of great outdoor activities the whole family can do together. Here are just a few good sources of ideas we’ve found online:

Schools, of course, can do more to help, as well – even if conventional avenues of activity such as PE and recess are diminished. (We don’t think they should be, but it’s the reality many have to work with in these days of strained budgets and ever more academic mandates.) Adding simple classroom movement breaks can help. A “brain break” of  some of our Yoga Calm sequences  or games and single activities can be woven through the day, like Tree Pose or Side Angle. These and other physical poses are fantastic for transition time between class segments.

And in some ways, this may even be better. It shows kids in a very real way that physical activity is intrinsic to our daily routine – not something extra added on or made to fit in a limited time period.

That’s a lesson for a lifetime.


Images by Stephen Kruso & Virginia State Parks, via Flickr

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