A lot of factors have led to the increase of sedentary lifestyle in children, the main reason being the proliferation of electronic devices. Children are fascinated by video games and shows and movies which keep them glued to phones, TV and other screens. They prefer the indoors to outdoors and do not get the exercise they need. The shrinking levels of physical activity is not healthy, in childhood as well as when they grow up. Let’s take a closer look at kids’ sedentary lifestyle, its effects and ways on how you can help your child overcome sedentary lifestyle.
Why is it difficult for children to overcome sedentary lifestyle?
It is difficult to get children to go outdoors to play and indulge in physical activity, as the content on screens is more interesting for them. Social reasons such as increase in crime rate means parents can no longer allow their children to play unsupervised outdoors. Most couples have one child and thus no siblings to go outdoors with and play. According to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study, children in the age group of 8-18 years are spending about 7 hours in front of screens (laptop, mobile and TV).
How is a sedentary lifestyle defined?
Sedentary lifestyle is one in which there is very little or next to no physical activity in the course of the day. Time is spent lying or sitting down while being engaged in an activity such as watching TV, playing video games, reading or resting.
To inspire children overcome sedentary lifestyle, you have to become proactive. If not, then your child could face potential health issues such as:
- Reduction of muscle mass which makes even the simplest activities painful. It increases the chances of developing psychological pain like abdominal pain, musculoskeletal pain and psychological pain.
- Sedentary lifestyle can lead to the domino effect of detrimental habits such as snacking while watching television, leading to unhealthy eating habits, weight gain and obesity.
- Increases the chances of developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and so on, either in childhood or later on in life.
- A lifestyle which is devoid of physical activity is linked to depression, feeling low, mood swings and so on. Serotonins and endorphins are released during play, which causes the feel-good factor. If children do not run and jump, they may fall prey to depression and anxiety. Thus, it is very important to help your kids overcome sedentary lifestyle.
- Brain activity is seen to decrease when children spend most of their time sitting down. They also get irritated and tend to snap at others.
- Finally, children need to spend their energy so that they are tired and fall asleep easily. If they are not active, then they have trouble falling asleep, thus sleeping late and not getting enough sleep. This starts the cycle of feeling tired all the time, leading to deterioration in concentration, thus having a negative impact on their studies.
What does science say?
There have been quite a few studies conducted on link between the sedentary habits of children and the implications for mental and physical health.
A study done by API, titled ‘A Movement for Movement – Screen time, physical activity and sleep: a new integrated approach for children by Dr Aric Sigman, provides insights which are helpful for parents and educators who want to know why their children should overcome sedentary lifestyle.
The study threw up some statistics which were shocking and disturbing. In Britain, 90% of 2-4 year olds did not meet the basic minimum recommendation of physical activity. And by the time they graduate primary school, they now have the highest body fat levels ever recorded. Mental illnesses and Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children. These findings are alarming as numerous others studies have shown that kids are ‘hardwired’ to move and to play. Their brain and biology demands that they play!
A Portuguese study also had similar findings. Scientists discovered that children of 9-10 years who spend upto 75% of the time in sedentary behaviors such as using computers/laptops, watching TV and so on, are at risk of exhibiting poor motor co-ordination skills, than children who are more active. To ensure that your kid/s develop proper motor co-ordination skills, you have to help your kids overcome sedentary lifestyle.
Why outdoor playtime is important
- Children tend to be much more active when they are outdoors than indoors and play longer.
- Preschool children who play outdoors have been seen to develop better social skills.
- There is evidence that children between the ages of 7 to 14 years who spend time in the outdoors, have few relationship problems as well as psychological health.
- Outdoor games increase activity in the brain cells, which might improve the brain structure as well as brain function.
How to help your kids overcome sedentary lifestyle
That physical activity is extremely beneficial for children is undeniable. As a parent, you have to inspire, motivate and support your children to play outdoors. You may have to be their playmate if they do not have anyone to play with.
Get your child moving with these fun activities for outdoor time:
1. Plan regular outings to the park
Kids love going to the park. If your child is too used to electronic devices and likes to stay at home instead, you have to devise some fun games and activities so that they get involved and interested. You could play ball in the park, play tag or catch or anything which is their favorite. Try to get your neighborhood kids interested too, so that they can join in. Spending time in parks is a great way to help your kids overcome sedentary lifestyle. The fresh air and greenery have many beneficial effects.
2. Remove screens from kids’ bedrooms
Research suggests that screens should be absent from kids bedrooms. This would help to avoid screens before bedtime. As a parent, you have to control as well as monitor the time your children use screens, and it is a difficult thing to do. Children do resist and may even act out when you restrict the screen time. It will be more difficult initially, but when you replace the screens with other fun activities, they will slow get over the habit.
3. Organize play dates outdoors
It’s more fun when their friends are together with them. It could be in your backyard where you can keep an eye on them. Take them to parks, lakes, creeks, nature walks and other natural environment. Visit the beach, nature reserve, botanical garden and river bank etc to provide a variety of naturescapes.
Let the children jump off tree stumps, sit on rocks and boulders and explore their surroundings to inspire imaginative play.
Children can visit a farm too, especially one which specializes in organic farming to know all about it.
4. Use patios, verandahs as extension of indoor space
To help your teen overcome sedentary lifestyle, use the patio, cubby house or verandah as extensions of the indoors, especially when it’s cold or hot, when children cannot go outdoors. You could have a workbench there and do some fun and creative projects with your teen, to get him or her off the phone or other screens.
5. Get them involved in outdoor chores
Spend time with your children outdoors together. Go for a walk in the evening, or wash the car together. When they see you being outside, they will feel motivated to go outdoors with you, especially younger children. Set the older ones the task of washing your car and mowing the lawn and let them earn their pocket money.
All of you can join in plucking weeds out, plant flowers and vegetables and water the garden. Give a bath to the family dog together, and take him out for walks. Watching you do all the outdoor jobs and participating in them will teach them some valuable life lessons, not to mention the fun and bonding which all of you get out of it.
Remember that when you send the children outside, you should not be inside enjoying some screen time yourself. This will send a contradictory message. So make time to go out with the kids and get your share of outdoor time as well, and grab some much needed vitamin D.
Besides helping them to overcome sedentary lifestyle, you will forever cherish the memories with your children outdoors.
6. Camp out
Give some old sheet/s and make a tent out in the backyard, or in the park or even on the beach. They can use sticks or driftwood to hold it up. Have a bonfire and tell spooky stories, gaze at the stars and have dinner around a campfire right in your backyard. If you can go on a camping trip, even better.
To help your teen overcome sedentary lifestyle, send them to a camp of their choice. This would take them off screens for a good amount of time.
7. Have fun with water
You would be a little apprehensive to allow the kids to get wet and play with water. But kids love some water fun. Let the kids splash around in an inflatable pool in your background. Ask their friends to come over and join in the fun. Scientists say water fun adds to the brain development. It’s a cognitive activity which lays the foundation for scientific and mathematical learning when they grow older.
If your tolerance level for messy playtime is low, then keep a tub/bucket of water by the door, and wash the sand/mud off before they traipse through the house.
8. Visit natural parks and forest reserves
There would be bike trails, hiking/trekking trails and walking paths near your community, through riverways, lakefronts and parks. You should make it a point to drive the kids to nature trails on a regular basis to instill the love of nature and the outdoors in them.
Explore new areas of your city or town which you have never seen earlier. There could be some hidden destinations which might become your favorite.
9. Do something constructive
Going outdoors is not always possible. Get your kids engaged in some fun craftwork. Let them play board games, Lego, Ludo, Carrom, Chess etc. Scrabble is a lot of fun. They will learn new words through games such as scrabble. It might become your family’s favorite way to spend time together. Allow them tons of time for free play indoors, without restriction. If you have only one child, you will have to play with them – there’s no other way.
10. Be a good role model
We forget that our kids are always watching us and imitate our behavior. We have to understand that we have to reduce our screen time too, if we want to set an example. Social media and television has to be under control so that children learn that from us. This is one of the ways to overcome sedentary lifestyle, to teach by example.
11. Create a outdoor playgroup
All parents are concerned about the time their children spend indoors, playing with their electronic toys. There would be like minded parents in your neighborhood too, who want to send their children outdoors. Take the initiative and mobilize some parents to bring their children at the same time as yours. They could play games together, run around and have tons of fun. Organize a nature scavenger hunt, play catch and more. It would be good for you to meet other parents too. This is one of the best ways to help your child overcome sedentary lifestyle.
12. Keep them active
One of the healthy lifestyle habits is to stay active. If you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle, you have to shed it completely. Take baby steps in the beginning so that you can retain your new fitness habits to improve health. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and start your active habits by walking, or jogging, or biking. Join a gym, dance class, yoga or zumba – it doesn’t matter how you keep fit, what matters is that you stick to healthy lifestyle habits.
13. Give their brain a rest
Try to peel your child away from the smartphone. Being connected to the phone or other connected devices puts a strain on memory, productivity and creativity. Disconnect from the virtual world for at least one hour a day, and give your brain a good rest!
14. Schedule routine health screenings
One of the healthy lifestyle habits examples of fit people is that they regularly schedule health screenings. You should do the same and get yourself and your child routinely tested – this will let you know of any risk factors or potential concerns, which you can address.
15. Make them get enough sleep
Sleeping enough is one of the best healthy lifestyle habits you should include in your lifestyle. It keeps your mind sharp and healthy. Your child will become more productive if their mind is rested. Sleep at the same time every day and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
16. Manage stress
You have to manage/reduce/eliminate stress from your life. There are healthy lifestyle habits such as meditation techniques, yoga, practicing or learning a musical instrument, and exercise.
17. Maintain meaningful relationships
Make your child stay in touch with friends and family or people they like. If you don’t have any family, volunteer at an NGO which will help you emotionally and you will contribute in meaningful way to society. Talking and sharing, even with strangers will keep your child healthy.
Food habits that can help your child overcome sedentary lifestyle
You can’t have a healthy lifestyle without a healthy diet, and the same goes for your children as well. If you give them only junk food to eat, they are more likely to stay in front of their screens. Below are certain food habits that would help your child overcome sedentary lifestyle:
1. Eat the color spectrum
Colorful foods which are vibrantoffer the most nutrients. Make a habit of eating at least two different colors of food with every snack and meal. Purple cabbage, green broccoli, red and yellow and green capsicum, red tomatoes, and dark green spinach – all these different vegetables and colorful fruits will tempt your palate, and provide your body with all the vitamins. Try different ways of preparing your food – for example, roast, broil, boil, poach, steam, bake. This will enable you to stick to your healthy lifestyle habits.
2. Watch the portion sizes
Portion sizes are to blame for eating more than you should. Control the portions using smaller plates, and eating balanced meals which has food from all categories. It has been seen that portion sizes has increased in restaurants too, which experts say is one of the causes for obesity. Split entrees between you and your dinner/lunch companion, so that you eat less.
3. Half your plate should be filled with vegetables
When at home,one of the best healthy lifestyle eating habits is to fill half your plate with vegetables. Another healthy eating style is called ‘mindful eating’. It doesn’t have to be raw vegetable salad every day, but you can have your quota of vegetables in the form of stews, soups, purees, sautés, mashed vegetables and fresh fruits. A benefit of eating seasonal vegetables is that you can eat doctor prescribed healthy food at affordable prices.
4. Practice the art of mindful eating
According to the practice of mindful eating, you have to eat your meals focusing on nothing else. No multi-tasking while eating, or watching TV. Distracted eating does not make you feel full and you cannot control your appetite.
5. Avoid the extra calories
It’s time to avoid extra calories. Instead of the café latte at the coffee shop, make a cup of coffee at home. Pure coffee contains many powerful anti-oxidants. Don’t add full cream milk and sugar to it, which will do nothing for your health but definitely add to your waistline. Try to drink black coffee, which is the best for you. Similarly, other lifestyle habits examples are to avoid junk food, both savory and sweet. Allow yourself a pastry or a slice of cake once a week. Or else, bake some low sugar whole-wheatcakes to satisfy your sweet cravings.
6. Ditch the triglycerides and saturated fats
Triglycerides are the main culprit behind obesity and heart disease. Snacks such as crisps, nachos, butter popcorn are very tempting, but if you want to live long, ditch the snacks. Switch to healthy snacks such as roasted chickpeas, homemade granola bars and energy mixes, salads and fruits.
You have to have tons of patience and stay motivated to keep your kids away from the screens. Try to have plans for some non-screen time every day. The kids will get used to this and maybe even look forward to do something other than staring at their screens. Kids love it when their parents are around and paying attention to them. An active less screen lifestyle will be beneficial for their eyes, physical and mental health and you would be closer to your kid/s more than ever!