Are your kids as active as 60-year-olds? Set a good example!

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By Sabrina Almeida

Worried about the sedentary lifestyle of your teenage couch potatoes? I am! With obesity rates among Canadian children and youth tripling in the past 30 years, promoting an active lifestyle and sensible diet are key to helping your kids maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives.

Physical health problems like heart attacks, blood pressure and type-2 diabetes aside, the poor self-esteem and negative body image these kids typically experience puts them at high risk for depression and bullying too.

There are also plenty of studies to show that obese children have a greater chance of becoming obese adults—a frightening legacy to bequeath your kids.

While all parents acknowledge the importance of a nutritious diet, encouraging kids to be physically active might be slightly lower on our list of priorities. Especially among South Asians who tend to lay more emphasis on academics and sedentary hobbies than active sports.

With kids spending more time watching television, playing video games or on their computers and smartphones, physical activities are often limited to scheduled time at school. Not surprising therefore is the revelation that activity levels of a majority of children may be comparable to people in their sixties.

While the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study refers to American teens, the same can be expected of their Canadian peers. Findings published in the journal Preventative Medicine should have all parents making physical activities a top family priority. Here are three eye-opening revelations:

• The most startling: 19-year-olds had the same activity levels as individuals in their 60s
• A troubling trend: More than 25 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls aged 6 to 11 and more than 50 percent of males and 75 percent of females aged 12 to 19 did not meet the WHO guidelines of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day for these age groups
• Gender bender: In all age groups males tended to be more active than females, till after midlife when the situation reversed

For the study, researchers used data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The 12,529 participants wore tracking devices for seven days, removing them only when bathing and at bedtime. The findings were categorized into five age groups: children (ages six to 11), adolescents (ages 12 to 19), young adults (ages 20 to 29), adults at midlife (ages 31 to 59) and older adults (age 60 through age 84).

While increasing physical activities in schools or looking for times that are more conducive to kids’ schedules might help, families must take their responsibility of raising healthier children more seriously. It is important to make the connection between physical and mental health at an early age. As Thomas Corely pointed out in his award-winning book “Rich Kids”, poor health and video screen overload were major deterrents to personal and professional success.

At the heart of any intervention efforts, lies the need to set a good example. Being physically active as a family will go a long way in inculcating good habits in your children rather than sitting on a couch and lecturing them. Over the years most of us parents have learned the hard way that they are more likely to mimic our habits and attitudes than blindly do what we say!

Taking a walk around the neighbourhood, exploring trails in your area, planning hikes and cycling trips during the summer are some simple ways to spend quality time with your kids. Little investment is required. A game of tag in your backyard is a lot of fun for the young ones. Walking the dog is an ideal way to encourage daily physical activity.

Also consider enrolling them in a sports, dance or martial arts club, as per their interests, to make physical fitness a part of their regular routine. Community centres offer a wide range of affordable programs for those on a tight budget.

Develop a love of summer and winter activities to help them stay physically active throughout the year.

Make it a point to limit use of electronic devices which promote a sedentary lifestyle. Encourage them to walk or bike to their destination rather than go by car or bus.

A report published in BMC Public Health entitled “Fit in 50 Years” showed frequent physical activity at a young age contributed to long-term activeness. For the study, researchers followed 712 World War II veterans who were healthy as young men and surveyed them 50 years later at an average age of 78. Those who had played a high school sport reported visiting the doctor fewer times annually throughout their lifespan.

Why are parents on the hook? Healthy adults lead to healthy kids, so it is important to be healthy together.

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