Encouraging Physical Activity
By Jennifer Seawell, MD, FAAP
We all know that exercise is good for you. But how good are we all at making it a priority? (Not that great at my house… we are a work in progress over here.) Here are some things to think about when encouraging physical activity.
An hour of play a day
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an hour of physical play per day. Most of which should be vigorous and unstructured. When I was a kid, this seemed pretty easily attainable. We had PE in school every day. At least 1 recess and often 2 during elementary school. And the playground at school was large and grassy so we were encouraged to run and play. We were home well before dinner and played in the backyard until time to come in and get ready for bed.
As I look at my two children and our daily lives, I realize that we are in a completely different situation now. My current elementary student only has PE 2 or 3 days each week. She still gets recess every day, but only for 20-30 minutes. And if it is cold or rainy, they stay in the classroom. The school days are longer and she often doesn’t get off the bus before 4:30. Outside play happens, but usually only a couple of days per week.
So start small. Assuming that your kid is likely to get at least 30 minutes of active play at school, make it a point to get them out and running and playing for 30 minutes when they get home from school. Plan bigger activities for weekends when there is more time.
Increased physical activity equals better sleep
And who doesn’t like more sleep!! Kids that spend more of their free time physically playing and less of their time on screens sleep better than those who are not active. This is also true of adults. It’s best not to do the bulk of physical activity right before bed though, so work it in before dinner for your best benefit.
Physical activity improves mental health
Active kids are happy kids. And we all want our children to be happy. Exercise increases strength and agility. It leads to a release in endorphins making your mood improve. For those who participate in team sports, there is the sense of community and belonging to something bigger than you. There is increase self-confidence in your skill-set improving over time. You can read more about it in this article by Psychiatry Times.