Shaping Children’s Habits and Activity

by Margaret Stoklosa

According to a 2017 survey, only 26% of adolescents are meeting the recommended movement goals for their age group (1). Part of this trend is the growing reliance on screens with an average screen time of 7 hours daily for those aged 8-18 (1). With obesity rates among children increasing, there is cause for concern and intervention on the part of both parents and children is necessary.  

(1) PMID: 32094289

Activity guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 indicate: 

  • 3–5-year-olds – should get 3+ hours per day of various types of activity 
    • Appropriate activities include gross motor activities such as running, swimming, tumbling, throwing and catching. 
  • 6–17-year-olds – should get 1+ hours per day of moderate to vigorous activity with three days of bone and muscle strengthening activities 
    • Appropriate activities for 5–10-year-olds include gross motor activities with the introduction of organized sports; muscle and bone strengthening 3 times per week. 
    • Appropriate activities for 11–14-year-olds include incorporating activities encouraging socialization; muscle and bone strengthening 3 times per week. 
    • Appropriate activities for 15–17-year-olds include incorporating activities encouraging socialization as well as competition; muscle and bone strengthening 3 times per week. 

Physical activity not only encourages muscle growth but decreases fat mass and improves bone structure (improving balance). Additionally, youth that are active are less depressed and are less inclined to take up detrimental habits such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, and excessive social media use (1).  

Benefits of exercise also include higher cognition and a heightened ability to handle stress (2), which increases attention at school. Habits established in childhood continue into adulthood, which is vital given that inactivity in adulthood is associated with a higher mortality risk and an increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer (1). 

Modeling behavior is also key.  Children raised in homes with active adults see the benefits of activity outright and are influenced to continue in similar movement patterns. According to the CDC, some ideas for shaping these behaviors include: 

  • Playing with children from an early age – taking them to playgrounds, encouraging socialization through play, and teaching children how to use various activity equipment (i.e. jump ropes). 
  • Creating time for physical activity as a family – designating days for family activity time, walking together after dinner, playing active games or sports. 
  • Squeezing in mini bursts of activity before, during and after school – doing morning stretches, walking the dog, getting active at recess, playing outdoors with friends, riding a bike. 
bigstock Family Activities At Home Par 475991989
Family activities at home, parents children spend time in sitting-rooms together. illustration of people rest during playing game in apartment. Home activities and entertainment, board games

One of the most important questions to ask is:

“what type of activity do you like to do?” 

If the child offers ideas, start with those.  If the child is stuck, offer to do something with them or encourage them to do something with a friend.   

Since activity is just one piece of the health puzzle, in the next blog we will explore how to build healthier eating habits as a family. 

(1) PMID: 32094289 (2) PMID: 30993594 

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