In the United States the average kid (age 8-18) spends 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen or on the phone. To counter sedentary living patterns, national physical activity guidelines for youth have been developed. The guidelines call for at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day for children and teens. The guidelines are based on the amount of physical activity necessary to promote good fitness, health, and wellness. Only 29 percent of high school students meet the 60-minute daily guideline and 14 percent don’t do any physical activity that causes them to breathe hard or that increases heart rate on any day during the week.
To try to increase the number of youth who meet national physical activity guidelines, a program called “Get Active! Let’s Move!” has been created. The program is designed to encourage active families, active schools, and active communities.
A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that school and community programs dramatically increase the number of youth who meet national physical activity guidelines. For example, students who take physical education do 23 more minutes of activity each day than those who do not. Students who perform classroom activity breaks during the day do 19 minutes more activity than those who don’t do activity breaks. After-school programs and modified recess contributes another 15 minutes a day. Together these programs can provide 100 percent of a youth’s daily activity.
Community programs that make the environment “friendly toward physical activity” also contribute to youth activity. For example, modifying the environment with bike lanes and sidewalks encourages walking and biking. Biking or walking to school provides an average of 10 minutes of daily activity. Renovating parks with equipment and opportunities for activity increases daily activity of youth by 12 minutes and modifying school playgrounds in similar ways increases daily activity by six minutes.
“Get Active! Let’s Move!” also encourages family activities. With summer coming, kids will be out of school and activity levels may drop. Some suggestions for family activity are listed below (www.letsmove.gov/active-families):
• Make a new house rule, “no sitting during television commercials.”
• Give youth toys and equipment that encourages active play (e.g., balls, kites, jump ropes).
• Limit screen time and keep the TV out of bedrooms.
• Walk around the block after a meal.
• Walk when on the phone.
• Find the time for a fun outdoor activity (e.g., family park time, swim, bike, games such as kick the can).
• Challenge all family members to earn the President’s Active Lifestyle Award-PALA (see http://www.fitness.gov/participate-in-programs/pala).
We know how much activity kids need to be fit, healthy, and well. We know that regular physical activity can help prevent obesity and can help youth to achieve in the classroom. We also know that parents can help their children to be active by implementing recommendations of the “Get Active! Let’s Move!” program. A side benefit of implementing the recommendations is that parents can benefit as well.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He is the author of more than 90 books on fitness and exercise, was the first chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, and served on the Institute of Medicine Committee on Fitness Measures and Health Outcomes in Youth. He was a charter member of the advisory board for FITNESSGRAM.