Friday, 20 September 2013

The Importance of Regular Physical Activity for Children

With the rapid rate of development in technology, computers, iPads, Play Station, amongst others, children tend to stay indoors and do as much as they can sitting at a computer, including entertainment. Before such technological gadgets existed or weren't so readily available, children were forced to go outside and play with a soccer ball to entertain themselves. Because it was a game, children did not see this as exercise; it was merely playtime. However, they were reaping the benefits of an active lifestyle. Now, physical activity has to be planned and thus is seen as a torturous hour of the day that is a hassle and very unpleasant. Thus, many children look for every excuse not to do it.

Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity has become a major health problem over the past few decades. According to the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention): “obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years”.
Childhood obesity poses numerous health risks:
·         Increased risk for developing heart disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol
·         Increased risk for developing diabetes
·         Increased risk for developing bone and joint problems
·         Social and psychological effects, such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem
Childhood obesity is easily preventable if appropriate lifestyle choices are made, such as a healthy, well-balanced diet, together with adequate regular physical activity.

Societal Changes
Changes in society have influenced our ability to keep active and stay healthy. Parents work late, so healthy, home-cooked meals have been replaced by fast-foods. We drive everywhere, instead of walking or riding because of security concerns. Television and computer games have become far more attractive than physical play. We live in smaller homes where little or no garden is a common feature. Parents no longer have time to play with their children. Despite these changes, a plan can always be made to keep active, such as going to the local park and playing with your children on weekends or making time during the week to do so. We must stop looking for excuses and rather look for solutions!

How much physical activity should one do?
It is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for adults to do 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. This equates to a 30 minute brisk walk 5 days per week. Children should participate in 60 minutes of physical activity per day, at least 5 days per week. It is most beneficial to do a little bit of exercise on most days of the week, than to walk for three hours on one day of the week. For children, the obvious place to be physically active is at school – play during break time and participate in sports after school.

Developmental Stages and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity throughout the developmental years helps to build gross and fine motor skills, stamina, strength, cardiovascular fitness, spatial awareness, balance and co-ordination.

Ages 5-7
·         Focus is on body management and control
·         Development of large muscle groups
·         Development of hand-eye co-ordination and perceptual abilities, balance, co-ordination, spatial judgement, and directional movement
·         Identification of body parts
·         Short attention span – small group activities

Ages 8-11
·         Refinement of fundamental skills
·         Start to learn to perform specialized skills
·         Explore, experiment and create activities
·         Move towards team play
·         More co-operation with peers
·         Develop an interest in sports
·         Learn more about activity patterns
·         Very active at this age
·         Longer attention span
·         Develop the desire to excel and seek recognition for their achievements

Ages 12-18
·         More emphasis on specialized skills and sport activities
·         Technical aspects of sport, such as rules and game strategies, become more important
·         Team and individual sports may appeal, with a desire for recognition of achievements
·         Consider gender differences and puberty

Parents’ Role
·         Set the example by being physically active yourselves
·         Take time to learn about healthy dietary and exercise choices for yourselves and your families
·         Play WITH your kids
·         Limit television and computer time to no more than 2 hours per day and encourage outdoor playtime every day
·         Show interest by watching their school sports fixtures – offer praise and encouragement
·         Get involved in school and community sports programmes
·         Encourage your children to be physically active at home – play in the garden
·         Provide transport to extra-murals
·         Make physical activity part of your lifestyle, so that your children learn to live an active lifestyle from a young age 

American College of Sports Medicine (2006). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Roux, J.C. (2011). Curriculum Development: Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (FET) Mathematics and Physical Education. University of Johannesburg: Department of Sport and Movement Studies.

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