“The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
This popular line from the 1965 Sound of Music movie may have been inspired not only by the beauty of the mountains and nature, but also by the sound of children playing and laughing.
The film takes place in the mid-1930s. Today, we could say that the hills are starving for the sound of children playing and laughing.
Canadian children spend more than 7.5 hours of their days inactive. Less than 10 per cent of them are meeting the suggested 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
In fact, the 2015 Participation Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gave Canadian children a D- for overall physical activity levels.
A recent article in a British newspaper showed how children’s mobility has changed in the last 100 years. In 1920, an eight-year-old boy was free to roam up to 9.5 kilometres away from their house per day. In 1960, that number was reduced to 1.5 kilometres, and today that number is further reduced to 0.27 kilometres away from the home.
Typical day in the life of a child: 1920
- Wake up at 5 a.m., and collect the milk and help with breakfast;
- Walk seven kilometres to school with friends;
- Participate in intra-school sports and interschool sports;
- Walk back home and meet a group of friends for a game of “kick the can” or tag;
- Complete homework early;
- Help with household chores;
- Finish day with outside play with siblings/friends in the neighborhood.
Typical day in the life of a child: 2016
- Breakfast while watching TV, browsing the Internet or texting friends;
- Bus to school (sitting), where he will sit most of the day;
- One hour of physical education and 22-minute recesses;
- Bus home (sitting) while playing with mobile phone;
- Once home, do an hour of homework (sitting) using the computer;
- After dinner, text friends, play video games on the computer (sitting);
- On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, league ball hockey league for one hour.
What’s the risk for our kids?
For the first time, we are seeing a generation of children who are expected to live a shorter life than their parents. Spending time sitting and being inactive increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and mental health problems.
We have many amazing advancements that make our life easier and better, but our lack of physical activity is not one of them.
The 2015 report card carries the headline “the biggest risk is keeping kids indoors.” By keeping children indoors, we are essentially increasing their risk of chronic disease.
So what can we do as parents?
Let’s be realistic. We cannot nor do we want to go back to 1920. But there is some 1920s inspiration to bring to 2016 play!
Without technology or screens being the focus of activity, you will quickly find that today’s children are also enthusiastic about skipping rocks, chasing frogs, and splashing in puddles!
Research shows that kids who spend time in nature will:
- Be more active and have more free play;
- Sleep better;
- Feel calmer, less stressed, and show improved mental health;
- Have a better self-esteem and sense of wellbeing;
- Develop better problem-solving skills;
- Perform better academically;
- Increase social and community connectedness;
Nature’s calling … get outside and play!
Learn more about the health benefits of nature, places to explore in Ottawa, and how to spend time with nature as a family at ParentinginOttawa.ca/NatureAndHealth
Lyne Gillespie and Janice Meisne are public health nurses with the City of Ottawa.