Making physical activity a healthy lifelong habit
Brendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipA
Does this sound familiar? You’re exhausted, and you have just enough energy to make dinner, give your kids a bath, and respond to your emails. No one would blame you if, instead of a game of tag at the playground, you allowed the kids a little extra tablet-time. But you might catch yourself if you realize what a difference a daily game of tag can make over the course of your child’s life.
Not all physical activity needs to be competitive to be beneficial. Based on years of research, recommendations agree that two- to five-year-olds should be moderately active throughout the day, while six- to 17-year-olds need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity to meet their daily physical development needs.
Like many parents, you may be at a loss for ways to get your child moving. Jesse Schneider is a kinesiologist and owner of Sportball Kelowna/Penticton, a noncompetitive sports program for kids from 16 months to 12 years of age, where they focus on developing motor skills, social skills, and sports skills, and use imaginative coaching techniques and stories to keep kids engaged and learning.
“The most practical way [to],” says Schneider, “is to engage kids’ natural imaginations and turn daily tasks into fun games. Kids love being a part of games and stories, and if you can get them to buy into your story, the rest is easy.
“For example,” Schneider suggests, “instead of just putting dirty clothes in the washer, say you’ve just been told that LeBron James and the Looney Tunes Squad need to defeat the Hamper of Destruction by feeding him stinky socks (get them to run up and slam dunk, or practise their basketball shooting form). Once you turn exercise into something fun, they’ll want to do it again and again.”
Solid storytelling acumen is a great way to trick them into thinking chores are fun, but what about helping kids who respond with, “I don’t know,” when you ask them what they’re interested in?
Schneider says, “Exposing your child to as many different activities as you can, like gymnastics, skating, swimming, skiing, Sportball, or bike riding, [can] significantly expand their motor skills and physical literacy.” He adds that when your child starts to take more interest in certain ones, you can focus more on those activities.
My dad used to say, “Do what I say, not what I do.” But do a parent’s actions matter too? Or are kids just as likely to get active regardless of a parent’s physical activity levels? According to Schneider, research has shown that parents who model a physically active lifestyle significantly influence their child to do the same.
“If you can model what an active lifestyle is, your child will be more likely to adopt that [example],” Schneider says. “It doesn’t have to be anything crazy: simply try to do some form of activity a few times a week. Make it a priority for yourself and your family.”
“The only secret is to just have fun—on purpose,” says Schneider. “Look for things in your life that can be made more fun. Whether it’s your job, grocery shopping, or driving, don’t be afraid to be silly with your kids; this makes mundane tasks something to look forward to.”
Schneider also suggests rewarding physical activities with things your child enjoys. For example, think of a creative game you can play with your child’s favourite characters that gets them moving, or even brainstorm with them to make a game together. This encourages teamwork, creativity—and a stronger bond with your child!
“You only have young kids for a very small fraction of your life,” says Schneider. “Take any moment you have with them as a chance to bring joy to each other’s day, and I promise they will remember it for the rest of their lives.”
Did you know there’s a link between gut health and your child’s growth and physical activity levels? Poor gut health can create challenges for their bodies to absorb nutrients, robbing them of the energy needed for healthy growth.
Help ensure your little one’s guts are in fine functioning order with children’s probiotics. You can get them in powders to mix in their favourite drink, chewable tabs, or yummy gummies.
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that two- to five-year-olds be limited to less than one hour of screen time per day and less than two hours per day for those over five.
According to research, screen time is significantly correlated with the risk of obesity, depressive symptoms, and lower quality of life. It may also have an association with behavioural and learning disabilities. Early life activity levels, and how we perceive our identity in relation to physical activity seem to be strong predictors of physical activity levels later in life.
A study of World War II veterans showed that the single greatest predictor of well-being later in life was participation in high school sports. Watch your kids’ games, practise with them, and show interest, not just in the results of their games, but also in the things they like most about their sport.