What kids need every day to be healthy

ParticipACTION's annual report shows that levels of physical activity among young people is low

Kids and woman doing gymnastic exercises with balls - stretching their back

Children and youth need a combination of high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior and sufficient sleep each day to be healthy – and very few Canadian kids are getting what they need.

ParticipACTION recently released its annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, which is the most comprehensive assessment of physical activity in Canada. And the grades were very poor.

As a result, this government sponsored non-profit organization that encourages Canadians to sit less and move more,  has come out with guidelines they would like families to follow: 

• Uninterrupted nine to 11 hours of sleep per night for those aged 5 to 13, and eight to 10 hours for those 14 to 17 years, with consistent bed and wake-up times.

• At least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities. Vigorous physical activities and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities should each be incorporated at least three days per week.

• Several hours of a variety of structured and unstructured light physical activities.

• No more than two hours per day of recreational screen time.

• Limited sitting for extended periods.

Sedentary behaviour received the lowest mark with an “F” in this year’s report card. Only nine per cent of kids get enough heart-pumping physical activity and only 24 per cent are meeting screen time guidelines of no more than two hours per day. Moreover, in recent decades, children’s nightly sleep duration has decreased by 30 minutes to an hour, which translates to 31 per cent of school-aged kids and 26 per cent of adolescents in Canada who are sleep-deprived.

In addition to impacting children’s physical activity levels, sleep deprivation has many other health implications. For example, too little sleep can cause hyperactivity, lower IQ scores and produce adverse hormonal changes like those associated with increased risks of obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Children who sleep less are also more likely to struggle with verbal creativity and problem solving.

“Sleep deprivation is becoming a problem for Canadian children and youth, creating an insidious threat to their mental and physical health,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of the ParticipACTION Report Card. “It’s time to take a whole day approach – many kids are too tired to get enough physical activity during the day, and not active enough to be tired at night – it’s a vicious cycle.”

Here are some tips to change bad habits:

Limit sedentary behavior including screen time

• Turn screen time into active time by encouraging outdoor play, rather than turning on the TV or computer.

• Remove TVs and computers from kids’ bedrooms.

• Make sure kids know decreased screen time is not a punishment.

• Ensure children receive no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time by developing household rules.

Make physical activity a key part of your child’s day

• Keep a log of the time your child spends being active at school and outside of school to make sure they are getting enough exercise.

• Encourage kids to get outside and engage in unstructured or structured play during their free time. Rain or shine, so long as your child is properly dressed, there’s no reason to keep them indoors.

Ensure your kids have consistent routines, including bed times

• It’s important for kids to have a schedule and do things at around the same time each day. Whether it’s waking up or going to sleep, eating meals, or participating in extra-curricular activities, having a structured routine will help them sleep better and in turn, be more active during the day.

• Establish consistent bedtime and wake-up times so they become a habit.

• Don’t let weekends be the exception! Encourage your kids to go to bed and wake up at the same time on the weekends to keep schedules consistent.

For more information, visit participaction.com/reportcard