A Douglas College instructor is urging Tri-City families to build more activity into their lives in the wake of a report card stating kids are too sedentary and endangering their brain health.
What’s more, barriers to physical activity for children who have disabilities could put them at risk of health problems, too.
“Parents are busy and especially parents with kids with disabilities, they are juggling a lot of different things, they are really worried that their child is receiving treatment, sometimes physical activity is seen as a nice to have not a must have,” said Sarah Moore, a faculty member in the Department of Therapeutic Recreation at Douglas College.
Moore is one of 19 experts recommending more physical activity to kids to promote healthy bodies and brains in ParticipACTION’s 2018 report card, released in 2018.
The report says physical activity helps several brain functions including thinking and learning, emotional self regulation and self control, problem solving and memory, among other things.
But too many children are watching screens for too long each day and aren’t moving enough, with the situation worsening as kids’ age.
For example, while 62% of three to four-year olds are reaching their recommended physical activity levels as outlined in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Early Years, that number drops to 35% for five to 17 year olds.
The report also finds that five to 11 year olds are on screens 2.3 hours a day and 12 to 17 year-olds are on screens 4.1 hours a day while the recommended limit is two hours a day.
All families are challenged to find ways to incorporate daily activity in their routine, Moore agrees, but her research has found children with disabilities face greater difficulties because there are either not enough programs or parents don’t know about the ones that are available.
“That’s one key we are trying to get out. We need to increase funding and availability of programs, we need to let parents to know and empower parents to make decision about their children’s activity,” Moore said, citing Special Olympics, Canadian Autism Network and B.C. Wheelchair Sports as good places to go to access programs.
Other ways families can include more activity in their lives is to walk more, or roll for children in wheel chairs, especially to and from school.
“We kind of live in this more inactive lifestyle. Now kids are driving to school when they live down the street and we have created these conveniences that leave us with less time to be active.”
Trying to balance work life with family is also a struggle, she admitted, and employers may need to recognize the importance of parents walking to school with their children, providing flex time opportunities so families can make it work.
Adults also need to be more active, with changes that will encourage them to move more, such as walking meetings and standing desks.
Moore says people need to be committed to being more active, and that might require changing ingrained habits and routines. She recommends the Canadian 24-Hour movement guidelines for children and youth for ways to make changes.
“We can all do our part to be more active in our lifestyle,” Moore said.
For adults, among the tips recommended for a more active life include joining a weekday community running or walking group, going for a brisk walk around the block after dinner, taking a dance class after work, biking or walking to work every day, raking the lawn and offering to do the same for a neighbor, training to participate in a charity run or walk, taking up a favorite sport or trying a new sport and being active with the family on the weekend.
For children and youth aged 5-17, a healthy 24-hours includes an accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigourous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities, several hours of structured and unstructured physical activities, 9-11 hours of sleep for 5-13 years and 8 to 10 hours for 14 to 17 year olds, no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time and limited sitting for extended periods.
Activity report card
D+ for Canadian kids’ overall physical activity because activity levels are low
D for active play and leisure activities because kids are on screens for too long
C- for Physical education because fewer high school kids are taking PE
D for sedentary behaviours because kids are sitting too much
B for organized sport because 77% of 5 to 19-year-olds participate in organized sport according to their parents, 46% of 3-to-4 year olds
B+ for sleep because 75% of 5-17 year olds meet sleep recommendations, 84% of 3-to-4 year olds
— Source ParticipACTION 2018 report card