With the beautiful beaches, national parks and the recreational spaces our country affords us, you would be inclined to think as Australians were an active bunch, wouldn’t you? Whilst our standard of living is rated one of the highest in the world, we are unfortunately falling behind in an area that is critical for health – physical activity!
Australian Health survey data indicates that nearly 70% of Australian adults (approximately 12 million people) are either sedentary or have low levels of physical activity. Even more concerning is that the activity levels of our children are following a similar trend.
The survey showed that only 19% of Australian children and young people aged 5–17 years are currently meeting the Australian physical activity requirements of 60 minutes a day. This one of the main risk factors attributed to the 400 new cases of Type 2 diabetes which are identified in 10-24 year olds each year.
These statistics are worrying to say the least, especially considering the critical role physical activity plays in children’s growth and development. Regular physical activity is critical during childhood and adolescence for:
- Maintaining cardiovascular and metabolic health
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Promoting the development of strong bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments
- Assisting academic achievement and cognitive development
- Improving self-confidence and social skills
- Reducing stress, anxiety and improve overall mental health
Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for forming healthy behaviours that we take with us into adulthood. Not getting enough physical activity during childhood and adolescence is a significant risk factor for becoming overweight and obese, as well as developing anxiety, depression and type 2 diabetes later in life.
With the technological age we live in, we know that physical activity isn’t as prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Screen time is the new leisure time favourite. Time spent behind a TV, mobile phone or tablet device is progressively replacing the outdoor recreational activities that a lot of us enjoyed as kids, which in turn is depriving them of physical activity that is necessary for healthy growth and development.
On average, children and young people aged 5–17 years spent one and a half hours (91 minutes) per day on physical activity and over two hours a day (136 minutes) in screen-based activity with physical activity decreasing and screen-based activity increasing as age increased.
So the question is… how much physical activity should our children be doing and how can we encourage them towards these guidelines to ensure healthy growth and development?
Physical activity guidelines
- For health benefits, young people aged 5–17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day.
- Moderate activities – activities that make your child “huff and puff” slightly and might include things like riding a bike, brisk walking, dancing, playing ball games at the park and skateboarding.
- This physical activity should include a variety of aerobic activities, including some vigorous intensity activity.
- Vigorous activities –activities that make you child feel “short of breath” so that they can only speak a few words at a time. It involves running can be considered vigorous and may include sports like soccer, netball, basketball and tennis or less structured activities like chasing games or jumping.
- On at least three days per week, young people should engage in activities that strengthen muscle and bone. Examples include jumping, skipping and running.
- To achieve additional health benefits, young people should engage in more activity – up to several hours per day
For many children and young people physical activity just doesn’t happen day-to-day. Therefore a plan needs to be in place for it to happen. Below are some simple tips to help increase your child’s physical activity levels now and help lay the foundations for good habits in the future.
Tips to getting children active
- Make a list of all the sports and activities your child might like to try. This could include organised sports like soccer, netball and tennis or more recreational activities like bike riding or walking the dog. Give them the opportunity to try some of these to see what they might like to continue with.
- As the parent or caregiver to a child it is important that you are a good role model and lead by example. Why not find activities that you can enjoy together like bush-walking, going to the beach or playing games at the park.
- Not all children are interested in organised sport. Therefore it is important to find alternate ways to encourage them to be active. This could include encouraging your child to take on an active hobby or job like umpiring a sport or applying for the local paper delivery. You could also give your child active chores around the house for their pocket money.
- Some children may be discouraged from certain sports or activities due to having had a bad experience in the past or negative pressures from peers. Try and provide opportunities for your child to practice these skills and build their confidence away from these social pressures.
- Examples might include taking them out to shoot hoops at a local basketball court or practising soccer skills at an oval. You might find your child starts to enjoy the activities and develop the skills and sense of achievement necessary to continue with the sport.