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TV vs. Activity: Key Choice for Kids

Red Rover, Red Rover, send Lucy right over.

Ready or not, here I come!

Simon says, pat your head.

Not so long ago, when school was out and the weather was nice, kids were always outside, climbing trees, swinging or playing games. These days, you're more apt to find kids inside, in front of the TV or the home computer. The average child watches 3 to 4 hours of TV every day — leaving much less time for a game of tag or hide-and-seek.

Health experts are troubled by the growing number of young couch potatoes. New studies show that a sedentary child will likely become a sedentary adult, and a sedentary life leads to a host of health problems, from obesity to heart disease.

Children, they point out, need to be active to help them grow and develop properly.

Movement is natural

The CDC currently recommends that children and adolescents engage in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. The 3 types of exercise they suggest are: aerobic, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening:

  • Aerobic exercise. This refers to such things as  brisk walking or running. These types of activities should make up most of your child's 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day. But it doesn't need to be treated as "exercise." Active play, such as a game of tag, is also aerobic exercise. 

  • Muscle strengthening. Push-ups or gymnastics are examples of muscle strengthening exercises. The CDC suggests that children do these types of activities at least 3 times a week as part of the 60 minutes of physical activity. Children shouldn't lift weights, however, because this can be dangerous. 

  • Bone strengthening. Running and jumping rope are 2 exercises that can strengthen bones. Three days per week (as part of the 60 minutes of exercise) are also suggested for these activities.

It's important to make children's activities fun and not stressful. Exercise can be whatever your child enjoys and be either team sports (for example. basketball) or individual sports (for example, jump rope, golf). Playground activities, running, jumping rope, bicycling (always with a helmet), and swimming are also great choices. Since the goal is to encourage lifelong physical activity, it is important for your child to enjoy whatever exercise is chosen. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies exercise as a key to preventing health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. The AAP also describes exercise as a wonderful way for children to reduce their stress. 

If you child has a disability 

Exercise is important for all children. If your child has a serious medical condition, physical, or cognitive limitations, it is best to check with your health care providers before starting an exercise program. They can discuss any accommodations or special precautions that may need to be considered. There are many places that offer adaptive sports programs for children and adolescents of all abilities. Many times the social interactions and friendships these programs afford are as health-promoting as the physical exercise. Talk with your health provider about recreational programs in your area. 

Combo is best

So, what's a parent to do to help children and adolescents get off the couch or away from their computers? To start, it's helpful for adults to rethink their definition of children's activity. Adults tend to mark off their days in neat compartments — exercise at this time, work at that time, play later. Children tend to be more free-form, and need small bursts of activity spread throughout the day.

At home, parents need to have a place where the kids can be active, where they can run, bike, or climb. If that's not possible at home, an alternative would be a public playground, or even a walk around the neighborhood.

For children 9 and older, organized sports can be a good outlet, if chosen carefully. Make sure the sport or activity is one your child will enjoy, and one that offers lots of exercise. Just because a child is on a team, doesn't mean that he or she will get much of a chance to play.

It's also important for children to see that their parents are active.

Studies have found that if both parents are active, the children are much more likely to be active. In addition to being good exercise role models, the CDC offers the following ideas for parents: 

  • Do something active with your children every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk together.

  • Give your children toys or gifts that encourage physical activity, for example, a soccer ball, bicycle, or basketball.

  • Go places where the children can be physically active, such as a public park or basketball court.

  • Develop a family routine that encourages activity, for example, instead of watching T.V. after dinner, go for a walk.

  • Always provide the right safety equipment for the sport, such as helmets, wrist pads, or knee pads.

  • Be certain the sport is age-appropriate. Check with your health care provider about what age to start different physical activities, such as baseball or bicycling. 

As parents, you try very hard to protect your children. Making physical exercise a routine part of your children's day is an important and easy way to protect their physical and emotional well-being. So start today — talk to your children about what exercises they enjoy and help them start moving!