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Keeping Children and Teenagers Active




Young people have lots of demands on their time, so finding time to be active can sometimes be a challenge. But physical activity keeps teenage bodies and minds fit and healthy – and during adolescence, your child needs at least 60 minutes of activity every day.

Why physical activity is important

Being active is an important part of your child’s daily routine. It’s a great way for them to spend time with friends, meet new people, feel good and break up long stretches of sitting and studying.

Being active every day can help:

  • improve heart health and fitness
  • develop strong muscles, bones and good posture
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • improve concentration and memory
  • learn new skills
  • increase self-confidence
  • reduce stress
  • make and keep friendships
  • improve sleep.

Optimal level of physical activity

Physical activity should be performed at a moderate or vigorous level to achieve the health benefits.

Moderate activities make your child gently “huff and puff”. These could include brisk walking, dancing, bike-riding, swimming laps of a pool, jogging, and helping with inside and outside chores.

Vigorous activities increase your child’s heart rate and make him “huff and puff” even more. These activities could be any game with lots of running – formal ones such as basketball, or less formal such as tag. They could also be running or jogging, or sports such as soccer, hockey, swimming and football.

Did you know?
Your child can get “huffing and puffing” in lots of different ways – anything from organized sport to active transport and unplanned active play will do!

Getting enough physical activity

It is recommended that children and youth get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day to achieve optimal health benefits.

Here are some things to consider when you and your child are thinking about how to get enough physical activity into her daily schedule:

  • Where can your child be active? How much space do you have at home, in the backyard, at the local park, walking track or local pool?
  • What local options are low cost or free to use?
  • Who are your child’s “active” friends? Who can you visit to help your child be active?
  • Who else can help your child be active?
  • Are there any young people’s groups that could be useful?
  • What activities can your family plan to do to be active together?

Your child doesn’t have to get his daily 60 minutes of physical activity at one time. He can build it up over the day through a range of different activities. This makes it easier to succeed and to do even more than 60 minutes.

School sport isn’t always enough
You might think your child will get all the physical activity she needs in physical education (PE) classes or from running around at lunchtime. Unfortunately, this might not be the case.

In PE classes, students spend only about one-third of their time being moderately to vigorously active – the rest of the time is spent learning about sports, exercise and the human body. And in their lunch break, teenagers are often busy socializing, eating and doing other slow-paced things.

Did you know?
In BC, to help students achieve their best, the Ministry of Education requires all students from Kindergarten to grade 12 to participate in daily physical activity.

Children who don’t like physical activity

Not all young people are keen on physical activity. If this sounds like your child, you can start by giving him lots of praise and encouragement when he does get active.

There are also a few other things you could try:

  • Be active yourself and give your child a great role model for physical activity. If you can get her to be active with you, she’ll get a chance to see how good it can feel.
  • Explore a range of different organized and recreational activities to find one your child likes. Activities like walking to the shops or going for a bike ride might be good options.
  • Physical activity isn’t just about winning. Non-competitive activities that allow your child to socialize in a positive way can help him feel good about participating, rather than feeling pressure to be the best.
  • Some activities and groups involve lots of physical activity but don’t make a big deal of it – for example, community youth groups like Scouts and Girl Guides. When kids get involved in groups like these, they might also feel a sense of achievement, which makes it more likely that they’ll want to continue.
  • If your child’s been put off physical activity by a bad experience in the past, you can help her practice her skills and build confidence. For example, you could visit a local tennis court and hit the ball around. When there are no other kids around, your child might be more likely to try new activities. And the bonus is you get to spend some fun time together.
  • Your child doesn’t have to play to be involved. Plenty of young people take part in physical activity by umpiring or coaching younger children. This could be the way that your child finds the activity he enjoys.

Balancing physical activity with screen time

One reason why young people aren’t getting enough active, outdoor time is because they’re spending a lot of time sitting in front of screens doing things like watching TV, social networking on the internet, playing video games, texting on mobiles and so on. They might also be having big sleep-ins and spending lots of time on the phone.

Screen time is an OK way to spend a small part of each day, but other things are better for children’s development. These things include physical activity, homework, reading and time with family and friends.

Screen time guidelines:

  • children aged 5-12 years should spend no more than two hours a day using electronic media for entertainment (computer games, internet, TV), especially during daylight hours
  • children aged 12-18 years should spend no more than two hours a day using electronic media, unless it’s for educational purposes.

It might be hard to stop your child from using electronic media altogether. But you can try to set some limits:

  • You could start by thinking about how much recreational screen time your child has every day. If it’s more than you’d like, you could work out a daily schedule for physical activity and electronic media use.
  • One way to cut down on screen time is to have all your screens – TV, computer, mobile phones – in your home’s family areas, rather than the bedrooms.
  • Setting limits on the use of mobile phones and home phones can help clear time for homework and family activities. These limits should apply to you as well as the kids.

Physical activity and children with special needs

Physical activity is just as important for children with special needs. Many organized activities have been modified or are supported to help children with special needs to try out. Check with support groups or sporting organizations to see what’s available in your area.

Your family could also try making time to do physically active things together that work with your child’s needs.

Outdoor physical activity is also important for young people with special needs. Being outdoors is a good way for children to get the vitamin D they need for strong bones and muscles.

© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.


Last Updated: November 30, 2014