Ankit, a 12-year-old boy from Chennai, prefers playing games on his smartphone and laptop than with friends of his age. He is not alone. Advancements in technology and affluent lifestyles embraced by most families have created a new generation of children who lead a highly sedentary life. They prefer to spend long hours indoors with their favourite gadget than engaging in a vigorous physical activity. Such is their obsession with gizmos that they are totally cut off from the outside world and lose track of time. What Ankit and many children of his age fail to realise is the fact that they are missing out on vital physical activity, which is essential to leading an active and healthy life.
How sedentary lifestyle affects children
Over a period of time, a physically inactive life predisposes children to lifestyle diseases, irreversible health conditions and a host of other ailments. Prolonged sitting can affect your children's cardiac health to a significant extent, according to a study conducted by University of British Columbia's School of Health and Exercise Sciences. In a related study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, it has been found that a sedentary lifestyle combined with poor physical fitness and obesity leads to arterial stiffness. This is likely to result in cardiovascular diseases in primary school children.
The sedentary lifestyle also restricts children’s social lives and communication skills, thereby, putting them at a great disadvantage as they grow up into adulthood.
What should parents do to help their children become active?
With the kind of impact that lack of exercise can have on their children’s lives, parents should sound the wake-up call to their children to adopt a regular exercise regimen. It is believed that teenagers suffering from gene-linked obesity can reverse their status with one-hour workouts each day. So, here’s a step-by-step guide for parents to get started:
You must understand that not every child has an aptitude for adrenalin-pumping physical activity like soccer or cricket. If a popular sporting activity is not for your child, it is perfectly fine. Instead, encourage your child to take to cycling or walking or even dancing. It is always better to find out where your child’s interest lies. In fact, it is essential that you expose your child to a variety of games and find out what exactly he has an aptitude for. Though it may require a lot of patience, the effort will definitely be worth the trouble. Also, while your child is spending hours in front of the TV, notice if he prefers sports channels and also find out which sport he watches the most. For, he is likely to enjoy playing the sport that he is watching. If you encourage him to take it up, he will certainly pursue it in earnestness.
Establish fitness goals
It is essential that you establish fitness goals early on, to motivate your children. When you begin to set fitness goals for each of your family members, plan some rewards which will motivate your child to perform well in the workout regimen. 15-year-old Hashmitha, from Bangalore, describes how exercise has been a part of her life from a very young age and how those who did not exercise were looked down upon by her family members. "Right from the age of three, my parents used to make us exercise daily. They set aside a time for it and when we failed to join them at the appointed hour, we were frowned upon heavily." Echoing Hashmitha's views,
Dr Nagammai, a general practitioner from Chennai says, "It is essential to start your children on a regular exercise regimen early on, so that they cultivate good habits, which will help them stay healthy."
Slow and steady
Being a parent, you need to realise that if you have children who prefer sedentary lives, you must encourage physical activity by introducing it gradually. For instance, if your child prefers swimming, you can schedule a 10-minute swimming session each day and gradually increase it by a few minutes at regular intervals.
Ensure that your child prioritises physical activity and works towards attaining total well-being and fitness. Reward his daily achievements in maintaining the exercise regimen.
Be a role model
As parents, you must serve as role models for your children by exercising regularly. Children learn the most by watching you; so, it is essential for you to stay active and fit, if you want your children to inculcate good habits in their daily life.
Restrict time with gadgets
Leading associations like The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that screen time be restricted to no more than two hours each day, be it watching TV or playing video or computer games. So set strict house rules for screen time.
As John F Kennedy, said, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” Therefore, encourage your children to exercise and stay fit.