Fight for Your Right to Play

Hi there! Welcome to the latest edition of the Back to Basics blog. I’m glad you’re here. Whether you’re a regular subscriber or this is your first time reading and you were simply drawn to this article because of the Beastie Boys reference in the title, I’m glad you’re here. So, pull up a chair, but don’t sit down just yet.

The 21st century has ushered in many advancements and changes to improve the speed of accomplishing tasks and a surge in the world of convenience. Most daily tasks can be accomplished from the computer, tablet, or phone. Ordering pizza, submitting homework, completing work assignments, having conference meetings, and even buying groceries can all be done with very little physical exertion. You don’t even have to get up. How can these advancements to the convenience and efficiency in modern day America have negative impacts on our health and the development of our kids? One answer to this question is…sitting. Let’s elaborate.

The Physical Activity Guidelines set forth by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the United States recommends children between the ages of 6-17 years get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. But, with the growing popularity of video games, television shows, and other sedentary activities, along with the reduction in recess times and PE classes at schools, many kids are not reaching this minimal goal. So, what it is coming down to is the fact that kids (and many adults) are sitting still more and moving less.

About that chair you pulled up…

Research shows that sitting for more than 2 hours at a time increases risk of future health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. But, just like the age old adage “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” it is often difficult to tell whether a predisposition to a certain health condition resulted from sitting too much, or if sitting too much was a symptom of the present health condition. Either way, sitting is clearly not the best pastime for humans who were made and meant to move. Children today spend 50-70% of their time in school sitting. As adults, many of us also find the majority of our day occupied by sitting at a desk or in a car with little to no reprieve.

Busy schedules, homework, meetings, and end of the day fatigue tend to keep a lot of people (kids and adults alike) sedentary during the week, with the hopes of making up for the lack of activity once the weekend hits. Unfortunately, just as you can never truly “catch up” on sleep after many late nights, two active days out of the week cannot cancel out the 40+ hours of weekday sitting. Weekend Warriors cannot defeat the Day-to-Day Sedentary Slugs. So how do we beat the sitting system?

Getting a MOVE on in Schools

Recess and physical education classes in the school systems were designed to provide kids with time to get up, move, play, and learn healthy lifestyle options. But, somewhere along the line, there was a breakdown in the system. According to research, only 1.8% of girls and 2.9% of boys reach their physical activity goals during PE class, and only 50% of recess time actually yields physical activity from many students. In fact, many schools in the United States stop recess by late elementary school and only require physical education classes through the first year of high school. By restructuring the goals of school based activity systems and encouraging activities that teach HOW TO MOVE and why it’s important, higher percentages of today’s youth may reach the Physical Activity Guideline Goals and gain healthy movement habits along the way.

Youth Sport Participation

Youth sport participants tend to reach 23% of their daily physical activity goal through playing their sports. In fact, research has shown a dramatic drop in the amount of moving on the days kids do not participate in an organized sport. Having a team to play with and participating in an activity that is of interest can definitely help get a kid moving. But, as with anything, there can always be too much of a good thing. In a previous article, “The Importance of Playing: The Growing Risk of Overuse Injuries in Youth Athletes,” I noted that variety in sports activities should be encouraged, and early specialization in a single sport discouraged. Kids who focus on a sport too soon, tend to gain very specific, refined skills in that particular activity, but lack finesse in other types of movement. Mix it up, and have some variety. Even if a child is a stellar soccer player, it is in their best interest to find another activity they may like to pursue as well, like swimming. Just because a kid is a math whiz doesn’t mean they don’t also need to take science, history, and english classes. Sticking to strengths only magnifies the weaker areas.

The Golden Goose of Movement

So, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about structured activities, so far. But, an important fact to keep in mind, the greatest yield of physical activity and moving, is PLAYING. Free play that is unharnessed by rules, regulations, and structure (to an extent…we all want to be safe) yields 50% of the physical activity goals for most kids. Encourage your child to use their imagination, think outside the box, go on an adventure, or play with a neighbor. Make your own rules…or don’t…just MOVE and have fun. Leave the chair behind and MOVE.

Until Next Time,

Abby Scheer, DC

References:

Hickson E, Salmon J, Benden M, Clemes SA, Sudholz B, Barber SE, Aminian S, Ridgers ND. Standing classrooms: research and lessons learned from around the world. Sports Med. 2015:1-11.

Nettlefold L, McKay HA, Warburton DE, McGuire KA, Bredin SS, Naylor PJ. The challenge of low physical activity during the school day: at recess, lunch, and in physical education. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(10):813-9.

Ridgers ND, Stratton G, Fairclough SJ. Assessing physical activity during recess using accelerometry. Prev Med. 2005;41(1):102-7.

Wickel EE, Eisenmann JC. Contribution of youth sports to total daily physical activity among 6-12 year old boys. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(9):1493-500.