The Physical Activity Pyramid provides a model for describing the different types of physical activities that children can perform to meet national physical activity guidelines. The national guidelines for youth recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Long periods of inactivity are discouraged.
The focus of this column is step one - moderate physical activity - of The New Physical Activity Pyramid for Kids (Source: Fitness for Life Elementary School, Human Kinetics, 2010, used by permission). Moderate physical activity is equal in intensity to brisk walking. It is not as intense as the activities in steps two and three (vigorous activities), but more intense than light or very light activities such as working at a computer or brushing your teeth.
Moderate activities require three to six times as much energy as resting or sleeping. They are included at step one of the pyramid because they are easy to do and are the most commonly performed activities by people of all ages.
For youth, activities from steps two through five are also recommended, but moderate activities performed in youth have many health benefits and can lead to lifelong activity habits.
Many moderate activities are called "lifestyle activities." Examples include walking to school or work, yard work such as raking or mowing, gardening, and housework such as mopping. But this category also includes moderate intensity bike rides, shooting baskets in the driveway, playing badminton in the backyard, as well as performing moderate intensity sports such as golf and bowling.
If youth are to meet national activity guidelines they will have to do considerable moderate activity each day of the week. Adopting "lifestyle activities" can contribute significantly. Examples include walking to and from school and doing moderate tasks around home (in yard or in the house). The opportunity to play outdoors greatly also increases activity levels for kids. In many ways, outdoor play is a "lifestyle activity" for youth because play is critical to total child development.
Schools can do much to encourage and promote moderate physical activity for youth. Children who attend schools that have regular physical education and recess, for example, are much more likely to meet national exercise guidelines than those who do not get these opportunities. It is tragic that at a time when childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions, schools are considering cutting these activities. Parents can help by supporting these programs and urging school administrators to maintain these programs. The few dollars saved now will be more than offset with future health care costs as inactive children become inactive and unhealthy adults. Schools can also use classroom activity breaks to provide more activity. These breaks not only increase physical activity, but promote success in academic studies as well. Kyrene de la Colina Elementary School and Horizon Community Learning Center, for example, use "Wellness Week" programs to promote physical activity and sound nutrition throughout the school. These programs should be encouraged.
Parents can help their children to be active as well. A recent national survey by the YMCA found that most parents feel that they provide a healthy environment for their children (89 percent), but 74 percent said that their kids do not meet the 60-minute-a-day activity standard and only 16 percent said that their children play outside daily. Most admit that they face many obstacles to providing adequate activity for their children. Principal problems include work that limits supervision, lack of safe play or exercise areas for independent activity for kids, competing activities (e.g., TV, computers, social commitments), and lack of free time to spend with children. Forty-six percent indicated that their kids watch TV at least two hours a day. These are all very real problems, but if good health is a priority parents can find ways to be active with their kids and to encourage youth activity. Some examples are:
• Walk with your kids. Set a time for a family walk and stick with it. It is good for the parents and good for kids. People with dogs are more active than those without dogs and are faithful to walking with their dog. Walk the kids.
• Assign "lifestyle tasks" at home including housework and yard work.
• Encourage outdoor play including shooting baskets, playing in the yard, etc.
• Set aside a night or two for family activities such as bowling or other moderate activities.
• Get kids involved in sporting or other planned activities. Be sure that your kids enjoy these activities and be sure that the activities actually get kids active. Research shows that some sports and sports practices involve a lot of standing.
• When you shop, bring a kid and have him/her walk. Don't let them ride in carts unless they are too young to walk.
• Encourage active rather than passive computer games. A recent study showed that Wii Fit games such as the step and hula games (done for 10 minutes) are of moderate intensity and can be used toward youth and adult guidelines.
• Help your children avoid inactivity. Find ways to limit TV, inactive computer and phone use.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles B. "Chuck" Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University, author of more than 90 books on fitness and activity, and was the first chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board. For more information on the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, go to www.health.gov/paguidelines.