We have all seen the “Participaction” advertisements aimed at getting our kids moving. This new campaign raises the question of when we should get our kids moving as well as how much we they should be doing to keep them healthy. It now seems that we cannot start early enough. We hear the statistics – obesity in Canadian school children is at tremendously high levels and physical fitness is decreasing.
We talk the talk but do not walk the walk – literally. According to a new report published by Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Researchand his colleagues, obesity levels are high even in the early years – from birth through to the age of 4. We know that active kids are less likely to be obese with exercise also supporting a number of other health benefits.
I happen to be a JK teacher and a new mother of a nine-month old baby boy. I recognize that what he sees us do will impact what he does. I also know that it is important that we set the template for healthy eating.
Two sets of guidelines are being published. The first set of guidelines are directed towards physical activity which are outlined in age groups as per below:
- Infants – physically active several times daily
- Toddlers and preschoolers – accumulate 180 minutes of physical activity per day
- 5 years of age – at least 60 minutes of energetic play
As an infant (less than 1 year), that means having tummy time, playing and rolling on the floor, crawling and reaching. Toddlers should do any activity that gets them moving from climbing stairs to playing outside to crawling and walking, running or dancing. Activity will help to maintain a healthy body weight, improve movement skills, increase fitness, build healthy hearts, develop self-confidence and improve learning and attention − and it’s fun!
The second set of guidelines are directed towards sedentary behavior which aims to:
· Minimize time infants are sedentary
· Under 2 years – NO screen time (e.g., TV, computer, electronic games)
· Children 2–4 years – screen time under one hour per day (less is better)
What this means is that we should limit the use of playpens and infant seats when children are awake, stop during a long car trip for playtime, set clear limits about screen time with no TV and computer in the bedrooms and get your kids outdoors.
In a conversation I had with Dr. Tremblay, he points out that with exercise we see benefits in cardiac and metabolic profiles – such as benefits to cholesterol and sugar. In addition, we see improvement in cognitive skills, motor skills, lower levels of fat, improved psychosocial skills and better social indicators.
While the physical activity guidelines may seem familiar, Dr. Tremblay pointed out the equal importance of addressing sedentary behavior. Your child might meet the goals of physical activity, but if they then come home and do nothing but sit, we are failing on the sedentary guidelines. Physical activity and sedentary behaviour are different parts of the health equation – and both need to be met.
While it may seem shocking that we need guidelines in children under the age of 4, these do reinforce that it is never too early to focus on healthy lifestyle and eating.