Take a Stand for Children’s Health…Literally!

by | Feb 6, 2013 | Health, K-12 Education

At first glance, it’s a hard statistic to believe – that by the time they reach high school, 63% of kids are no longer physically active. But consider some of the barriers that either didn’t exist or were much less common for children just one or two generations ago:

  • Perpetual distraction by a screen and media saturated environment
  • Slashed education budgets leading to cuts in sports and PE classes
  • Testing mandates that have made recess seem expendable for the sake of more classroom time
  • Neighborhoods not designed with space for outdoor play – or unsafe for such play
  • Limited adult supervision afterschool due to two-earner households or parents having to hold more than one job to get by financially
  • The model of adults leading sedentary lives, sitting through most of their waking hours

sittingFactors like these are often invoked to partially explain the obesity epidemic, now more than a decade old. If only obesity were the worst outcome of inactivity!

Truth be told, inactivity is implicated in a host of other health problems, particularly heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. And surprisingly, simple exercise may not be the solution. As Dr. Len Kravitz notes in his overview of research on the physiological problems caused by too much sitting, it’s the sitting so much for so long that’s the hazard, “regardless if the person meets the minimal daily exercise guidelines.”

That truth was underscored a couple years ago by a study which found that sitting for long periods may be just as harmful as smoking!

It’s hard to quantify exactly how long someone has been sitting by asking them, so researchers substituted the activity of TV watching and analyzed data from a giant lifestyle survey with 11,247 participants over the age of 25. What they published in…the British Journal of Sports Medicine may be the push you need to type while standing: Every daily hour of watching TV was associated with an 8 percent higher risk of death. (This is after controlling for the effect of exercise, diet, obesity and other relevant factors.) “Watching one hour of TV above age 25 may be about as lethal as smoking one cigarette,” says J. Lennert Veerman, PhD, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, who led the study.

No one would even dream of encouraging children to pick up a nicotine habit. Yet most of us – wittingly or not, willingly or not – are to some degree guilty of encouraging inactivity.

We need to move and move more often – and to get our kids doing the same. As Professor Stuart Biddle has said of his own research in the matter, “As a rule of thumb, if you can break up sitting time by at least five minutes every half hour we think that will benefit you.” [emphasis added]

This is why we recommend teachers – and homeschooling parents, as well – integrate Yoga Calm with their curriculum, using it at intervals throughout the day. Its simple activities like Tree pose or the Top 10 flow can be done even in the most crowded classrooms. In this way, it becomes a tool for creating opportunities to stand, stretch and move. As research has shown – and as we routinely hear from teachers, counselors, parents and others – this activity supports academic performance while reducing behavior and attention issues, anxiety and stress. Being able to merge physical activity and academics is especially valuable in schools where PE or recess have been curtailed.

run_and_playFortunately, more schools are starting to realize just what they’ve lost by such curriculum cuts and are making efforts to get kids moving again – sometimes on their own, sometimes by law. And, of course, there’s Michelle Obama’s ongoing Let’s Move! initiative, which includes the Healthier US School Challenge (HUSSC), “a voluntary USDA-certification program to recognize schools that meet the highest national standards for nutrition and physical activity. According to The Root, participation has been strong enough to meet or exceed goals ahead of schedule.

To meet the requirement of regular physical activity for children, schools found a range of solutions. Washington, D.C.’s River Terrace Elementary School, for instance, has its students walk on a track for 10 minutes each day and started a school walking club. Chicago Public Schools decided to bring back recess for elementary schools next fall and resume physical education for high school juniors and seniors for the 2013-14 school year.

You’ll find more ideas and resources for schools here and here.

What are some ways you work more standing and moving into your daily routine? Share your tips in the comments.

Top image by K. Sawyer Photography,
lower image by Mish Mish, via Flickr

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