Getting Kids to be More Active

by Andrea Dietrich, B.Kin., CSEP-CPT
Fitness and Training Coordinator, Recreation Services at the University of Manitoba

The Participaction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth 2016 has reported on the overall findings of physical activity in youth in Canada, and some of the results are concerning.  Most children and youth in Canada have been found to spend more than the recommended amount of time in sedentary behaviours, do not engage in enough active play, and fall short of certain motor skills associated with physical activity. The good news is that these behaviours are easily modifiable with support from parents and caregivers.

How Active Should Kids Be?

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology has created easy to understand guidelines for physical activity for all walks of life. For those children who are 5-11 and 12-17, the minimum standards are very similar. CSEP recommends a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity daily, 3 vigorous intensity activities a week, and muscle strengthening activities 3 times a week. What does that look like? Running, jumping, climbing, organized and unorganized types of play, exploring, creating, the list goes on.  Any activity that reduces sedentary time – sitting in front of screens, passive activities – is encouraged.

How Can Adults Help?

Use positive language when talking about physical activity such as “I exercise so I can feel good” over language such as “I exercise because I need to lose weight”. Those who view exercise as punitive, grueling, or a condition of self-worth are less likely to continue participating in activities than those who are physically active because they enjoy the experience. By changing the language we use, we can impact how our children learn to enjoy physical activity.

Using positive language goes hand in hand with role modeling. Most parents are aware that their children see and hear everything they do and will mimic them starting from an early age. If they see you prioritizing and making time for yourself to participate in physical activity, it can help kids see the importance and value in exercise.

Provide active toys. Active toys encourage active play. It doesn’t take much, a jump rope, a soccer ball, a pair of water guns, or a pack of sidewalk chalk. Not only does it give kids an opportunity to get outside to play, but it also inspires imagination and creativity.

Make it a family thing. Adults need physical activity just as much as children, so why not get the whole family involved and create memories in the process? Taking the family out for a walk after dinner or a trip to the park can be an opportunity for play for both you and your kids.

Think outside the box – physical activity doesn’t have to be structured. One of the other barriers children face right now is that their schedules are overbooked, which limits their opportunities for physical activity and play. Sure they are participating in organized sports, but consider prep and travel time, and then how much of their time is spent waiting for their turn to participate. Additionally, not all children have the opportunities to participate in organized sports. Time and cost can be prohibitive to some families, but that should not limit a child’s opportunity for physical activity.

Just a reminder, vigorous intensity activities will get kids sweaty and breathing hard, so don’t forget to remind children to drink plenty of water before, during, and after physical activity, especially in the summer months. Try to reduce the use of fruit juices and sports drinks for hydration to reduce daily consumption of sugars, or water them down instead.

If you are looking for ways to get your children active, consider our Mini U programs at the University of Manitoba which are run throughout the year.