No matter the season, there always seem to be enough activities on the family schedule to make mom or dad feel more like chauffeurs than parents. But it’s all part of trying to give our children the experiences they need to help them grow into healthy, fit, and socially balanced adults. Right? Team sports, gymnastics, dance, and other physical activities each provide the opportunity for kids to develop different sets of skills and improve strength, coordination and stamina. So is participation in an organized sport providing enough physical exercise to meet recommendations for children and adolescents? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, participation in a team sport alone, may or may not offer enough sustained vigorous exercise to meet the recommended guidelines for daily physical activity.
According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Health and Human Services, children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 should get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Most of the hour should consist of moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic activity with additional muscle-strength building and bone strength building activities at least 3 days a week.
While the intensity of exercise during actual games may vary between moderate and vigorous, the level of physical activity during practices is more difficult to measure because much of the time during a practice is spent waiting for turns and listening to verbal instructions from the coach. While any amount physical activity is beneficial, less than the recommended level of moderate to vigorous exercise is not enough to maintain fitness and help guard against childhood obesity.
Well-Being spoke with Christopher Boston, M.D., Family Medicine physician and Assistant professor in the UMMC Department of Family Medicine, about how parents can help their kids get the level of exercise they need each day.
“For my patients, I recommend a variety of outdoor activities – to get them away from the TV, computer, phone, and game consoles,” notes Dr. Boston. “It’s important to find something they enjoy doing as they are more likely to stick with it. Organized sports are great because they can help build esteem, teamwork, a sense of belonging, relationship skills, improve coordination, etc. While any “activity” is better than being sedentary, organized sports should be just a part of the daily activity a child gets. Encouraging different types of activity is a plus to decrease the risk of ‘burnout.’”
Dr. Boston also reminds parents to be sure to stress precautions to keep their kids safe while they participate in outdoor activities.
“Encourage safety (street safety, bike helmet use, swimming safety and swimming lessons). Be sure kids maintain adequate hydration (especially in the summer) and use sun protection when outdoors (i.e., sunscreen),” Dr. Boston adds.
How can parents help get – and keep kids active?
Parents can help shape their children’s behavior and attitudes toward exercise and being active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following ways parents can encourage daily physical activity.
• Set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle yourself.
• Make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together.
• Give your children equipment that encourages physical activity.
• Take young people to places where they can be active, such as public parks, community baseball fields or basketball courts.
• Be positive about physical activities in which your child participates and encourage them to be interested in new activities.
• Make physical activity fun. Fun activities can be anything your child enjoys, either structured or non-structured. Activities can range from team sports or individual sports to recreational activities such as walking, running, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities or free-time play.
• Instead of watching television after dinner, encourage your child to find fun activities to do on their own or with friends and family, such as walking, playing chase or riding bikes.
• Safety first. Always provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads or knee pads and make sure the activity is age appropriate.
Christopher D. Boston, MD, is a Family Medicine physician and serves as assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at University of Mississippi Medical Center. He graduated summa cum laude from Louisiana State University and earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he also completed his residency in family medicine. Dr. Boston also completed a fellowship in sports medicine at the University of Kentucky. He is board-certified in family medicine with a CAQ in sports medicine.