A recent survey has discovered that levels of children participating in exercise are still reducing. Blame has been partly aimed at Education Secretary Michael Gove who has cut funding to school sports. Levels of physical activity are at an all-time low. Less than 50% primary school-aged boys and less than 28% of girls meet the recommended minimum levels of activity needed to maintain good health. So what on earth CAN we do to help boost levels? Here are some options:
First of all, the lack of funding for school sports should be increased. Happily, the government agreed in March to a £150m primary schools scheme. Secondly, sport should be a larger part of the curriculum. Enforcing activity via the school timetable is a guaranteed way of getting kids moving. Perhaps introducing a greater variety of sports, or linking PE up with other subjects, would encourage those less enthusiastic children.
MAKE IT FUN
The best approach, as always, is to make activity fun so that children want to participate. This is relatively easy with those who are naturally keen on sports, and parents probably do not have to worry about the activity levels of their sporty children. But there are also many children whose interests lie in other areas or just can’t be persuaded to move far beyond the computer.
However, parents shouldn’t give up hope. Although sports in schools are generally predictable, there are often many extra-curricular sports and activities available and always a glimmer of a chance that an inactive child might like to try something new. Consider all the options. If team sports like football or netball isn’t their thing, perhaps try more individual-based activities like swimming, karate or cycling. If you have someone who loves music then find out about dance classes, such as Streetdance or ballet.
However, many children still are not convinced by any class or group which involves too much physical exertion. It’s also true that many parents have neither the time nor money to take their children to extra activities after school.
Home-based activities could provide an answer here, especially with children who are highly motivated by anything originating from a screen!
For example, active videogaming, which tracks players movements to control the game( such as Wii, Kinect and Xbox), has been the subject of a recent new study from Liverpool John Moores University . The effects of playing moderate to high intensity games e.g. 15 minutes of 200m hurdles by Kinect Sports, or boxing and dance games, were researched as a way to counteract sedentary habits. Results were very encouraging with researchers concluding: “ Higher intensity gaming may be a good form of activity for children to gain long-term and sustained health benefits”. But many would still argue that computer-based activities are a poor substitute for getting involved in real-life sports and increasing general day-to-day levels of activity.
FOLLOW EXERCISE GUIDELINES
According to current NHS guidelines children and young people between 5-18 should be doing at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity each day. More specifically, this should be a mixture of:
Moderate intensity -anything which raises heart levels enough to break a sweat and allow you to talk, but not sing e.g. walking to school, riding a bike, skateboarding, playing in the playground, walking the dog.
High-intensity - anything which gets you breathing hard and fast and makes talking tricky e.g. running, playing football, playing chase, fast bike riding, karate.
Muscle-strengthening activities should also be included each week e.g. tree climbing, tug of war, swinging on bars, sit-ups.
Bone strengthening activities are also recommended each week e.g. anything which involves children working against a resistance or lifting their own body weight e.g. jumping, skipping, walking, dance, swimming.
Remember that these minutes can be broken up into sections. As many of these are ‘incidental’ activities that children naturally do when playing you may also discover that your child is doing more activity than you had previously assumed!
DEVELOP HEALTHIER HABITS
If monitoring activity times and levels seems too involved, try these other ways to get children moving:
· Simply concentrate on minimising the amount of time children are sitting down. This can be watching TV or playing on the computer or even reading books. If they’re not sat down, they’re very likely to be moving!
· Whenever you are able to, walk or cycle rather than take the car. Many schools now suggest that parents park away from the school and walk the remainder. Bikes or scooters can make getting places more fun so are a great investment in children’s health.
Probably the best approach for all children is to make physical activity into a normal part of their lifestyle. Start as young as possible, but remember it’s never too late to make changes. It may take a concerted family effort to change your habits, particularly when lifestyles are demanding and busy, but the extra effort put in will reap benefits for children’s health now and in years to come.
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