Health Risks Of A Sedentary Lifestyle In Children

Are you worried about your child sitting in front of the television for hours? A sedentary lifestyle can have grave consequences. Read on to know more.

By Priya Kathpal

Health Risks Of A Sedentary Lifestyle In Children

Deepika Shetty could not believe her ears. The doctor had just informed her that her 14-year-old son had high blood pressure. At first, Deepika thought it was a result of eating too much junk food. However, to her surprise, that was just one of the reasons for her son’s condition. It was mostly her son’s sedentary lifestyle that was the chief culprit.

Deepika's son is one of the many children in urban centres, who rarely go out to play or indulge in physical exercise. With the growing dependency on technology and change in lifestyle, children are less active as compared to the earlier generation. This, in many ways, is posing risks to their health which may or may not be immediately visible. The adverse effects show up later in life and can be long-term, if changes are not made early. 

According to the World Health Organization, a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world. A 2010 study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average kid in the 8–18 years age group, is spending an alarming seven hours in front of the screen (television, mobile, laptop) every day. 

What is a sedentary lifestyle?

A sedentary lifestyle or behaviour is defined as little or no physical activity in the daily routine. Most of the time is spent either sitting or lying down while engaging in an activity like reading, watching TV, playing games on screen or just relaxing.

A sedentary lifestyle doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity. It also increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression and anxiety.

According to a study, 'Physical activity in childhood may be the key to optimizing lifespan skeletal health, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in the year 2013, an hour of outdoor play or engaging in a physical activity every day is extremely important for children. This may or may not be all at one go, but can be beneficial even when done in chunks of 15–20 minutes are beneficial in many ways. It helps them burn energy, tone the muscles and helps stimulate the brain.

The human body is meant to move. So, any lack of physical activity deteriorates and weakens the body, sags the muscles and stiffens the joints and causes pain.

Some health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are

  1. A lack of physical activity reduces the muscle mass and makes simple activities painful. It may also increase the risk of developing physical and psychological pain such as headaches, musculoskeletal and abdominal pain.
  2. A sedentary lifestyle in children can lead to a domino effect of bad habits and detrimental behaviour in future. Children, who sit for longer also tend snack often especially the unhealthy stuff. This is directly related to weight gain and obesity.
  3. It increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, hypertension etc. These are carried through to adulthood and causes other issues like decreased quality of life and increase medical costs.
  4. A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of certain cancers. According to a study, 'Sedentary behaviour increases the risk of certain cancers,' published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2014, it has been suggested that there is a relationship between sedentary lifestyle and the increased risk of cancer. The risk is no different in children and is associated with an increased risk of more than 10 types of cancer.
  5. An inactive lifestyle is linked to a 25 per cent higher chance of feeling low and depressed, and displaying mood swings etc. The body releases endorphins and serotonin when active, which leads to the feel-good factor. This in turn ucing the risk of depression and helps reduce anxiety too.
  6. Children who don’t get enough exercise tend to snap or get irritated easily. It is also observed that just sitting reduces the brain activity and functioning in children.
  7. A sedentary lifestyle can affect the sleep cycle of your child, as he needs to feel tired before the end of the day to get sound sleep. All day sitting and lying makes the body lazy and leads to lower levels of sleep, in turn, feeling more tired and other related issues.
  8. Sedentary behaviour may contribute to negative mood by enhancing inflammatory responses to stress leading to an upregulation signalling pathway and enhanced vulnerability to mood disturbances.

It is important for parents to set an example and behave as positive role models for children to follow them. Planning regular family trips to places close to nature may lead to activities like hiking, swimming, and climbing. Enrolling the child in a sport that he/she enjoys is also a great way to get the body moving and learn many more things simultaneously. 

The author is a nutritionist and founder at Nutrify. 

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