Physical activity critical to childhood development

Being “Unplug and Play week,” I thought it would be time to highlight the Canadian Paediatric Society’s 2012 physical activity guidelines

Being “Unplug and Play week,” I thought it would be an appropriate time to highlight the Canadian Paediatric Society’s 2012 physical activity guidelines for children and youth.

In 2009, a national survey found that Canadian youth spend an average of 8.6 hours of their waking hours engaged in sedentary behaviours, and only seven per cent of our youth were getting at least 60 minutes of daily aerobic activity. While literacy and physical activity may not seem directly related, the “unplugged” part of the message supports both causes. Increased screen time and sedentary behaviour is not only linked to increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension, but also poor school performance and reduced self-image.

So what are the new guidelines?

Infants and toddlers (four years and under):

Zero screen time is recommended for children under the age of two. For children two to four years, screen time should be limited to under an hour a day. Less is better.

Children aged one to four years should have at least three hours of activity daily. This could include free play, games or any activity that develops movement skills.

Children and Adolescents (five to 17 years) should limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day and should get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise daily. Activities that strengthen muscles and bones should be included at least three days a week.

While “exer-gaming” (like Wii-Fit) is better than nothing, it does not replace outdoor active play, physical exercise or sport (or reading a book).

Some recommendations for families:

• Remove television sets and computers from bedrooms.

• Eat meals and snacks at the kitchen table, rather than in front of the TV.

• If possible, have your child walk or bike to school.

• Find other activities to replace screen time – try a Toonie swim at the pool, visit the library, go tobogganing, take the dog for a walk or play outside with a friend.

In today’s culture, “unplugging” can be a difficult prospect, as we have become used to always having entertainment and information available at our fingertips.

However, there is a substantial and growing body of evidence suggesting many negative impacts of this lifestyle, especially for children.

This week’s “Unplug and Play” is a good opportunity to try new ways of spending time and having fun with your family and friends.