Though it is not surprising that today’s generation of kids is spending more time in front of television screens and less time outside playing, a new report shows how much that is adding up and taking away from their overall fitness. The finding was presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions – the first they say to show a decline in children’s fitness levels worldwide over the last three decades.
“Parents play the most critical role in developing a healthier family,” says David Steward, health and wellness coordinator at Bailey Medical Center. “Many parents have left nutrition and physical fitness to schools and coaches. We encourage parents to create fun opportunities for physical fitness. Parents also have the ability to choose the types of foods that enter the home. We have found the most effective approach to creating a healthier family is parents and youth working together to learn and be active.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children 6 and older get at least 60 minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity during the course of a day. The truth is that only about one in three are getting that today. With physical education cut from many schools, and fewer opportunities at home for children to get out and exercise, today’s children are quickly becoming one of the most sedentary generations.
The proof? Researchers say today’s children take 90 seconds longer than children in the 1970s to run a mile – equating to a 5 percent decline in heart-health fitness for children 9 to 17.
“Parents also have an opportunity to get healthy with their children,” says Steward. “Adults and children can play in the yard, kick the ball and throw a Frisbee. Families can go on a bike ride or take a walk through the neighborhood. However, parents can’t play catch with their child while looking at their smartphone. It requires a commitment and a shift in priorities as a family.”
Parents, who remember back to days of coming home from school and playing outside until dinner, can help turn the tide for this generation – and it starts at home.
Encourage children to play outside.
Limit screen time to less than two hours a day.
Make dinnertime family mealtime at the table – encourage healthy food choices.
Be an example – plan family physical activities together like riding bikes or hiking.
Sign your children up for family-oriented sporting events.
Enroll your children in after-school sports.
Acknowledge reaching fitness goals with healthy rewards.
Childhood sets the foundation for health later in life. Help your children and their friends live healthier, longer lives by changing behaviors today.
David Steward is certified as a Youth Exercise Specialist, as well as with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.