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Why sedentary lifestyles are making children less fit

Posted on 11 August 2015

Sedentary lifestyles are detrimental to children’s fitness levels, despite their level of obesity.

Recent research from a leading children's fitness expert at Essex University encouraged over 300 10-year-olds, in an area with low levels of obesity, to take part in tests conducted a decade apart.

Scientists found significant falls in fitness levels from the 10 year olds in the study from today in comparison with the 10 year olds a decade ago.

Most children they measured a decade ago were significantly fitter than today’s children. The influence of technology in lifestyle has been one factor to look to explain the reason for this. This study has now sparked a demand to look at measuring fitness levels in UK primary schools to avoid serious health problems in the future.

It’s common knowledge that every year children are spending more and more time in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV, computer or a smart phone. Parents and healthcare professionals are worried about the increased sedentary lifestyles of children for some time, making it a Government top priority.

 A healthy diet and exercise regime is a major part of a child’s life

The recommended amount of physical activity a week is 90 minutes in school lessons. There are further suggestions that young children will benefit from taking part in sports clubs outside of school, at weekends or in extracurricular activities. Walking, cycling and generally being active in P.E lessons provide plenty of exercise and cardiovascular activity for your children.

However, it has been reported that only 10% of children feel they have been doing the recommended amount of exercise whilst 71% of parents thought their child was active enough to meet their needs.

The British Heart Foundation conducted the research and they are calling for urgent action to ensure children get fit and active. This can be easily achieved by following the recommended guidelines on the levels of physical activity.

What the experts are saying about children and fitness:

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF said: "mums and dads need to take the blinkers off about how active kids need to be in order to keep their hearts healthy.” He goes on to suggest that in recent years children have been standing still for too long and it’s time to revolutionise the way kids exercise.

Dr Ian Campbell from the National Obesity Forum says: “parents, carers and children should try and find ways of being active together; at home, at school and at play.”

They argue that improving a child's fitness is down to incorporating exercise into the school day. Walking to school and standing in lessons are ways in which a child's inactivity can be improved.

For example, teachers at the Montpelier school in Ealing, West London, use "engaging" methods to keep children active in lessons, such as asking them to stand up and use their arms in lessons, says the report.

For example, in English lessons, children use "Kung Fu-style hand movements" to explain to the teacher where an exclamation or full stop should go, rather than putting up their hands or shouting out.

The school's head teacher says behaviour at lunchtime has been improved by the increased activity in the classroom.

Help your child improve their fitness levels. Here are 5 exercises for you to try with them:

1.       Walk the Plank for Balance

Have your child place one foot in front of the other and try to stay in as straight a line as possible as they make their way across the “plank.” If they make it across without any missteps, it’s a sign of good balance. More mistakes mean more practice is needed to focus on maintaining balance.

2.       Super Moves for Strength like a Super Hero

Super Moves consists of three phases: first, holding your child’s feet, see how many sit-ups they can do in one minute. See how many they can complete in 1 minute of modified pushups (with knees on the floor) or if they are advanced, proper press ups. Finally, have them jump next to a wall and reach as high as they can three times in a row.

3.       Sit and Reach for Flexibility

Have your child sit with their legs extended and reach out as far as possible. Repeat three times. Measure how far they are able to reach, either in front or beyond their toes.

4.       Running for Cardiovascular Strength

A key gauge of kids’ health is to perform a fitness test that involves running. It doesn’t have to be a full mile as a shorter distance can give you a sense of where different children stand. 6 or 7 year olds should be able to run a quarter of a mile and 8 or 9 year olds should be able to run half a mile.

Have your child run 1 or 2 laps around a standard track. Time their efforts and do a “talk test” with them afterwards to see how much they truly exerted themselves.

5.       Curl-Up Test for Muscle Endurance

This variation on the sit-up can provide another key measure of kids’ health. This test is appropriate for ages 6 and up.

Children lie on their back with their legs up in the air at a 90-degree angle. Hands are placed flat on the floor, and they curl (or crunch) up until their shoulder blades come off the floor. They complete as many repetitions as they can.