ParticipACTION is a national non-profit organization that promotes healthy living by encouraging Canadians of all ages to include physical activity into daily life. ParticipACTION regularly looks at the movement behaviours of young people and prepares an evidence-based Report Card to let us know how we’re doing as a country regarding the promotion and facilitation of physical activity in children and youth. The Report Card also aims to helps us understand how physical (in)activity can impact the lives of children and youth, now and in the future.
Having a physically active lifestyle helps young people have better heart, bone and brain health, better academic performance, more favourable mental health outcomes (e.g. better self-esteem and lower odds of symptoms of depression), and an improved quality of life. Although the many benefits of physical activity have been known for decades, we’re seeing increasingly lower levels of physical activity and higher sedentary behaviours (e.g. time spent sitting) among children and youth across the country. In fact, the 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card gave children and youth a D+ for Overall Physical Activity and a D+ for Sedentary Behaviour.
In addition to establishing that kids are spending too much time participating in sedentary behaviours and not enough time moving, researchers also found that the current stresses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be making it worse. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a simple solution when it comes to encouraging kids to be more active.
Young people are influenced by many things on a daily basis, including what they see or hear on TV, on social media, at school and when they are with their friends. But their families are what seem to influence them the most. When kids see their family members modeling healthy behaviors like being physically active, they are more likely to mirror those behaviours and develop healthy habits and key life skills. Therefore, families can play a crucial role in getting kids to move more, especially now that they are spending more time together than ever before due to physical distancing measures.
Encouraging kids to participate in healthy behaviours doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider using one or more of the tips below to provide kids with the positive encouragement they need.
- Make physical activity an easy choice. The easier it is for kids to participate in physical activity, the more likely they are to do it. Support your kids to be more active by encouraging, watching, role-modelling, co-participating and attending physical activity events.
- Be an active role model. Incorporating physical activity into daily routines will make being physically active second nature for your kids. Look for opportunities to be active as a family when possible. For example: family walks or bike rides, playing catch in your backyard, encouraging active transportation (i.e. walking instead of driving to get places) or taking active breaks throughout the day.
- Make being active as a family a priority. This not only allows all members of the family to get their hearts pumping and have fun together, it encourages social support, connectedness and attachment, which all are important for good mental health. So, consider turning your family time into active time!
- Create a family media plan. Too much screen time can lead to more time spent being sedentary and poorer sleep. To help limit your family’s screen time, create a family media plan that includes: setting limits/rules around screen viewing (i.e. screen-free hours or screen-free days), prioritizing screen-free family time and using “device baskets” (bins for storing personal mobile devices), removing screens from children’s bedrooms and having screen-free family meals.
- Encourage more outdoor time as a family. It’s an easy and effective way to limit screen time and be more active. Spending time outdoors also naturally boost moods and improves sleep quality.
Families who identify themselves as active are much more likely to have children who also identify as active. That’s why ParticipACTION is encouraging Canadians to take the #ActiveFamilyPledge, a social media challenge that empowers families to make quality time “active time” and identify as an active family.
At the end of the day, we all want happy and healthy kids. With everyday lives seeming to be busier than ever, fitting in activity, getting enough sleep and keeping kids away from tempting screens can be tough! But the evidence shows that it’s worth it to work toward developing and maintaining healthy habits at home. Taking the #ActiveFamilyPledge can be a great way to get started!
Next time you’re being active as a family, consider posting a photo on social media and using the #ActiveFamilyPledge hashtag to show your support and to encourage other families to take the pledge.
Although family members seem to have strongest influence on the health behaviours of children and youth, we want to recognize the important role that other individuals can play in the lives of young people. Marathon and Biigtigong Nishnaabeg were recognized as Ontario’s Most Active Communities by ParticipACTION in 2019. We are fortunate to have many active role models in our communities and we encourage you to continue leading by example and modeling positive health behaviours for our children and youth.
For more information on the 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, please visit the following website: https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/resources/children-and-youth-report-card.