Do you worry that your child isn’t doing enough physical activity to stay healthy?
This is a common issue for many parents, especially those with teenage children. While Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that children aged 5-17 years do 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, the Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12 published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that only 19% of participants met this recommendation in the 7-day period. (Although, 48% did meet the recommendation on at least 5 of the 7 days.)
There are a number of reasons for this. A key issue as children get older is that they have increasing demands on their time including homework and structured out-of-school activities. Parents are often time-poor themselves due to things like extended work hours, study, running the household or having their own personal commitments.
While younger children usually don’t need encouragement to get active, older children can start to lose the motivation for it, especially if they are embarrassed by their perceived lack of physical skills or their own appearance. Some may also feel that it is a bit ‘uncool’ to do anything that their friends aren’t doing or they may not have had any positive role models in this area.
Then, there is the issue of safety. Some parents may not like the risk of injury associated with some sports or of letting their child walk, ride or play unsupervised in their neighbourhood. These (often legitimate) concerns can limit the range of physical activities available to their child.
Finally, the obvious reason for low activity levels is the lure of digital screens. The Australian Health Survey also noted that 12 – 14-year-olds spend an average of nearly 160 minutes doing sedentary screen activities each day. For 15 – 17-year-olds, this increased to 180 minutes per day.
Because of all this, Young Australians are now increasingly likely to develop major health problems including type 2 diabetes, obesity, poor social behaviours, and physical development issues.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that it is all preventable through making small changes as a family.
The benefits of regular physical activity
Even informal activity, such as walking the dog each night, can lead to many great health benefits, such as:
- Increased bone and muscle strength.
- Better posture.
- Improved cardiovascular (heart and lung) fitness.
- Maintenance of a healthy weight.
- Improved mood and concentration.
- Improved flexibility, endurance, and balance.
And that’s just the start.
7 tips to help your child to become more active
1. Prioritise physical activity into your family’s weekly routine.
Block out the time in your calendar and put it up on the fridge if that helps. You don’t need to plan each activity in detail but just ensure that there is time set aside for doing something. The daylight hours after school are an ideal time to let your kids do some form of unstructured activity so provide toys or equipment they enjoy using.
2. Restrict screen time
This is not a new suggestion but it is a challenge. If possible, negotiate set times for chatting on social media or watching movies. This is one of the areas where it really helps for you to look at your own habits and ensure you are practicing what you preach. Children are more likely to listen to your words if they are backed up by your actions.
3. Start good habits early
Just like brushing their teeth and learning manners, the younger children are when you start to teach them good health habits, the more likely they are to accept them as part of normal life.
4. Offer choices
Just like adults, children like to have a certain amount of control over the things they do. This doesn’t mean they have to dictate everything, but you can allow them choices over the types of physical activities they do each day (within reason, of course). For young children, try giving them the choice between 2 – 3 activities as any more may only confuse them.
5. Do things together
Aim to create some regular quality time with your kids by doing some physical activities together. Our suggestions include:
- Walking or cycling to school together.
- Having weekend walks in places like parks, the beach or just around your neighbourhood. Take a kite or frisbee with you for added fun.
- Joining a local sports club together. (That means you need to participate in some way, too).
6. Trying a range of activities
You could consider enrolling your child in a sports team of some sort or an after-school fitness class for children. These will not only help their physical development but also help with their social and team skills.
Keep in mind that children have different personalities and interests that often change over time. While some thrive in team sports, others might prefer individual or informal activities. Your child might need to try out a number of different activities before they find one they really like. Here are some to try.
- Fitness training
- Skateboarding or roller-skating
- Martial arts
7. Keep it fun
Try to avoid focusing on sporting success and failure and aim to help them become motivated to get active for its own sake, especially with younger children. Also, if the activity starts to feel like a chore or it is not age-appropriate, then they’ll probably switch off fairly quickly.
The more enjoyment your child gets from any physical activity, the more likely they are to want to continue doing it regularly. Who knows, they might even prefer to kick a football in the yard with you than surfing aimlessly online. Give it a go. It could be a big win for all of you!
You might also like our article Exercise, nutrition, and periodised fitness training for teenage athletes