Healthy active living in a modern world

healthy-living-march14-1To achieve health benefits, Canadian children (aged 5-17 years) should get 60 minutes of moderate- to-vigorous intensity physical activity daily. In other words, kids need to play, jump, skip, hop, run, bike, skate, ski, and be active for at least one hour, every single day. But right now, only about seven per cent of children typically get this much activity.

Yes, an hour a day seems like a lot, and may seem impossible, but there are many resources out there to help!

When I have discussions about activity levels with parents, the conversation is usually pulled towards sports participation and we end up discussing how difficult it is – and rightfully so – to drive three kids to soccer, dance classes, and hockey all in the same week. Or as it usually goes, all on the same day.

But it’s not all about sport or organized activities – as great as they are for children, 60 minutes of activity doesn’t have to involve sticks, pads or credit cards.  Many activities you can do with your kids, and don’t cost a thing!

This is where the conversation typically gets uplifting. There’s a term that’s trending in the physical activity research world – that term is active play. It may be “trending” in the research world, but active play is not a new concept. It’s what many of us would simply refer to as being a kid – going outside or playing the snow.

Active play has benefits beyond those seen in other forms of physical activity, such as improvements in creative thinking and problem solving. For teenagers, consider incidental physical activities like household chores.

Beyond physical activity, we’re starting to understand the negative health impacts of sedentary behaviour, or behaviours associated with little movement, like watching TV, or spending extended periods in the car. Canadian children spend about 60 per cent of their waking time being sedentary – that translates to more than eight hours of sedentary time, per day.

The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour guidelines recommend that children limit their sedentary time throughout the day and get less than two hours of screen time per day, including time spent watching television, on the computer, using a tablet, or a smartphone. Yes – no more than two hours of screen time per day.

This is often a big challenge for parents – many of the parents I’ve talked to about this are desperate for solutions for reducing the amount of time their children spend in front of screens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released some suggestions for reducing screen time, which includes removing TVs and other media devices from children’s bedrooms. Parents can also establish firm, but reasonable, household media rules, such as setting a curfew for cell phone use at night (i.e. no texting after 8 p.m.).

While cell phones and tablets have become a way of modern life, I would encourage parents to talk to their children about how they use these devices and to keep an open mind to new technologies, which may help to create a two-way dialogue about media devices with their children.

Canadian sedentary behaviour guidelines also recommended that children limit the amount of time spent in motorized transport. Admittedly, this can be hard, especially if you live far from your child’s school, or the weather has decided to be uncooperative (in true winter-in-Ottawa style!).

But a great way to do this is to encourage children to use their legs, bike, or roller blades to get around. It’s also a great way to help them to get 60 minutes of activity each day.

As researchers, we will continue to provide more evidence to refine the physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines for children. Getting enough activity and reducing sedentary time for your children can be difficult tasks, but there are ways to make it easy, enjoyable, and sustainable.

ParticiPACTION has some great resources on ways to decrease screen time and increase physical activity throughout the day. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology also has many resources available on their website, including guidelines and a handbook with suggestions for ways to be active every day!

By Mike Borghese and Allana LeBlanc, Healthy Active Living and Obesity research group, CHEO

For more information on Canada’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines, visit the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s website at: