Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Everyone agrees on the importance of
physical activity for children, but translating theory into practice can be a
problem. Parents and caregivers can play an important role in encouraging a
variety of activities that will get kids
children explore the world through their whole body. It is natural for them to
want to run and jump, climb and balance. Apart from the obvious health benefits
of stronger muscles and denser bones, this kind of
activity also improves coordination, making it less likely that children will
fall and injure themselves. The long-term benefits of an active lifestyle
include fewer risk factors for cardiovascular
Being in good physical shape
influences mental performance. Studies show that children who are physically
active tend to concentrate better and have enhanced creativity and problem
is also affected. Vigorous exercise helps get rid of tensions resulting from
stress or anger, and an improved body image increases self-esteem. When you make
activity a family affair, having fun together increases the bonds between family
elements of modern family life create barriers to getting enough exercise. In
many circumstances, parents are afraid to let their children just "go out to
play" without close supervision. Children in apartment
buildings need someone to take them to the park, which may not be near by.
Not all child care settings have
indoor spaces large enough for running and jumping. For older children, schools
under heavy curriculum demands have often reduced the time and resources
allocated to quality physical education.
Meanwhile, adults and children both
spend more time driving or being driven places instead of walking. In addition,
sitting in front of the television, video games and computer games takes up more
and more of children's free time. Not only are
they not building muscles (other than in their fingers), but they also are
frequently snacking on fatty foods while they're sitting there. Obesity in
children and youth has increased 50 per cent in
the last 15 years.
Lack of space,
equipment, time, money, good weather ("it's too hot/too cold out!") — it
takes energy to get past these excuses, energy that physical activity will
itself contribute to
- Here are a few ways to provide opportunities for
children to follow their natural urge to move.
- Give them a positive model by staying active
yourself: make regular exercise part of your own routine. It will help your
stress level too.
- Make a family activity out of a game of catch, a
bike ride in the neighbourhood, playing tag in the park.
- Minimize competition. When they lose the game or
the race, many children lose their motivation to participate.
- Provide access to spaces, both indoors and
outdoors, with room to move and to play equipment that challenges children at
the level of their age.
- Remember to check for safety hazards and remove
any strings or scarves that might strangle a
child if they get caught in equipment.
- Learn about what activities are appropriate for
your children's ages. In general, younger children need less structured
activities, played for shorter periods. Older children will appreciate working
on the skills and rules of particular games. Allow for children's different
interests, talents and rates of development.
- Use your imagination: an obstacle course in the
basement or backyard (overturned chairs, tunnels made from cardboard boxes); a
game of catch with bean bags (dried beans in an odd sock tied off with an
elastic). Equipment doesn't need to be expensive.
- Consider the exercise potential in activities
like gardening, shovelling snow and washing the car.
- Find out about programs available in your
neighbourhood: family swim times, kiddy gymnastics, sports programs during
- Choose child care that devotes adequate time and
space to developing children's big muscles, not just fine muscle control. This
means 30 to 60 minutes per day of vigorous play. Pressure your children's
school to offer a minimum of 2½ hours a week of quality physical education.
- Limit time on the TV, computer and video games.
- Most of all, have some fun working up a sweat