WORDS BY ERICA NEWTON, MYFIRSTGYM CO-FOUNDER
That’s the amount of time children under five years of age are supposed to be engaged in physical activity each day. Three hours. Not even the first Avatar went that long!
For children under 17 years of age, the Australian Government Department of Health recommends a more achievable benchmark of at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity. And no, that doesn’t include unpacking the dishwasher of rolling their eyes.
Now, I know some parents are rolling their eyes: yes, I too have a child who wakes up and runs full pelt from one thing to the next until he falls asleep 14 hours later. Besides, 60 minutes really isn’t a long time. That’s just over one Outer Banks episode, or a Paw Patrol with some Bluey chasers.
But time is a funny thing. Do a little digging around in your child’s activity each day, and you might be surprised to find out just how little vigorous physical exercise they’re actually engaged in. Even if a child is in a soccer team doing one practice and a game, that usually only equates to two hours of activity across the entire week. Where does the other (at least) five hours of huffy puffy exercise come from? It turns out, for most kids, it’s nowhere.
I was horrified to learn that in Australia, the percentage of children meeting current daily guidelines is:
- 61% of two to five-year-olds
- 26% of five to 12-year-olds
- 7.9% of 13 to 17-year-olds.
Even worse, this data comes from a study held in 2018, before Covid knocked us onto the couch and in front of our screens. No wonder Australia is in the grip of an obesity epidemic.
What are the benefits of exercise for children?
It’s a no-brainer: kids who exercise regularly are healthier in just about every way: physically, emotionally, mentally and socially. Being physically active helps children:
- maintain a healthy body weight.
- increase thinking skills, cognitive function and brain health.
- develop friendships and social skills such as fair play, sportsmanship and working in a team.
- release natural feel-good chemicals like serotonin and endorphins.
- reduce loneliness, isolation and increases confidence.
If it’s so good, why aren’t more kids exercising?
There are LOTS of things keeping our children from moving more, and it’s not just the hours and hours of screentime during their day (though this is a major player). From embarrassment and a lack of confidence, to feeling stressed about how they feel they perform in sport, busy family schedules, accessibility to activities, feeling stressed in general and the impact of neurodiverse conditions… The fact is most of our kids aren’t moving as much as they should. And that is frightening.
The Australian government is committed to getting kids to be more active, as are our schools, whilst MyFirstGym is built around the ethos of inspiring movement. It doesn’t matter what kids are doing, as long as they are up and moving. If they are puffing a little, even better.
Most parents we encounter at MyFirstGym, have gone down the traditional route; running themselves ragged with kids in several structured team sports like soccer, football or netball. Which is great. Our son is soccer mad: it’s a great outlet for all that running! Have more than one child with more than one interest each though, and exercise and activities can quickly overwhelm your weekly schedule and your bank account. Plus, not all kids love mainstream sports, and it’s these children in particular who thrive in the positive atmosphere and diversity of activities at MFG.
Here are four simple ways to help get your kids moving:
Huffing, puffing and sweating isn’t always an enjoyable thing to do, so there has to be some other intrinsic reward. A goal, a reward, doing it with friends, trying parkour, dancing like a loon… it doesn’t matter as long as they are having fun and moving.
Exercise that requires parents to drive all over the place, is expensive and uses complicated equipment is not going to last the distance when you’re first starting out. Walk the dog. Go for a bike ride. Play tag in the backyard. Put on their favourite playlist and dance. Just move.
Positive language is like (healthy) sugar for our kids’ brains. Descriptive praise targets exactly what your children has done well. For example: ‘That was a fantastic kick of the ball.’ It’s more genuine and meaningful than ‘Good job’ or ‘Well done’. Encouragement is praise for effort, for example: ‘I like the way you kept dancing, even when you were puffed.’ When we encourage our kids often, they begin to understand the act of trying hard can be a good thing in itself.
A wide range of amazing and diverse classes, coaches who live to help and encourage children, in one place with one very reasonable fee… Find the closest MyFirstGym and inspire movement in your children.