When a Canadian study published in the “Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine” showed that most children do not get anywhere close to what they indicate is the minimum of seven minutes of vigorous physical activity each day to prevent weight gain and obesity, I wasn’t surprised.
Defining Physical Activity in Kids
The study tracked 600 children’s physical activity for one week, and monitored the children’s weight, waist circumference and blood pressure. It found that children were spending most of their awake time (70 percent) doing sedentary activities, 25 percent of their awake time engaged in light physical activity, 7 percent of awake time in moderate physical activity and less than 1 percent of their awake time engaged in vigorous physical activity.
As medical director of the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Healthy Weight Center, my team and I work with parents and children to define healthy eating behaviors as well as healthy physical behaviors that support a healthy weight. This involves having discussions and providing education centered on defining the word “active.” While many parents believe their child is active because they are outside playing, this does not meet the definition of “vigorous” activity.
Vigorous activity raises the child’s heart rate and breathing rate. While I certainly applaud all efforts to increase physical activity – light activity, moderate activity – I encourage parents and children to strive to increase the amount of vigorous activity they engage in. Here are some factors to consider when trying to increase a child’s activity level:
- Seven minutes a day is a small fraction of the day. Assuming 12 hours of wake time each day, seven minutes is only .01 percent of one’s awake time. It may be enough for some people.
- Examples of light activity include playing catch, walking to school or a friend’s house, doing chores around the house.
- Examples of moderate activity include a brisk walk, bike riding, and swimming.
- Examples of vigorous activity include jumping jacks during commercial breaks, running around the block two times after school, jumping rope, in-line skating, and tennis.
- Make the most of your weeknights and weekends. The study indicated that little activity occurred during these times. However, weeknights and weekends are prime times for families to be engaged in physical activity together. Parents have a tremendous opportunity to bring about change through leading by example.
- If you sense your child is avoiding vigorous activity, talk with them about it to see if there is an underlying issue, such as bullying, teasing or lack of confidence. In my medical experience, children avoid vigorous activity due to undiagnosed or undertreated asthma, social pressures, and mental health concerns, including depression.
Guest post by Dr. Stratbucker who is a board certified pediatrician and obesity medicine specialist and medical director of Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Healthy Weight Center.