Scraped knees, bruises and worn-out running shoes - that’s what children are made of. Unfortunately, this statement is become less true as we see an increase in sedentary behavior and a decrease in physical activity.
“The biggest risk is keeping your kids indoors,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute). Dr. Tremblay was one of the lead authors of the Participaction report card, which has given Canada a poor grade when it comes to physical activity of children and youth.
Currently, Canadian children receive a D-minus in the area of physical activity. It’s believed this is because parents are trying to protect their children and don’t allow them the freedom to explore and take risks. I’m not implying we allow children to climb onto the roof of their house and jump off, or allow them to ride a bicycle without a helmet; I’m simply suggesting let’s allow children the freedom to explore and learn how to engage safely in physical activity.
Tremblay believes that society has been “conditioned to avoid risk” and that is translating into unhealthy kids who spend more time inside (usually in front of screens), instead of getting physically active outdoors. When children spend an increased time indoors and less time outdoors, this can result in excess snacking, breathing re-circulated indoor air, not enough exposure to sunlight, and less social interaction with other children in their neighbourhoods.
A more valuable lesson you can teach your children (instead of keeping them away from physical activities that you feel are unsafe) is to teach them how to assess risk, manage it appropriately, and know how to respond when things don’t go as planned. Don’t allow them to jump off the roof of the house, but teach them that it is okay to fall.
Here are some ways to get your children involved in active outdoor play:
- Visit your local park or playground – this is a low cost, easy option and can include the entire family. Bring some of your favourite equipment from home (i.e., baseball, glove, soccer ball) and walk to the park to increase your physical activity.
- Join them – although it may not always be possible to engage in physical activity with your children all the time, when you do participate with them you are truly leading by example. It also allows you to supervise your children and ensure they are participating in “safe” risky play.
- Develop a scavenger hunt – this is a great way to allow children to explore the outdoors in a fun and safe way. It also allows them to explore nature and their neighbourhood.
For more information on the Participaction Physical Activity Report Card please visit www.participaction.com/en-ca/thought-leadership/report-card
Sonya Brown is a Heath Promotion Co-ordinator with Alberta Health Services. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org