Get Off the Couch! Why Children Need an Active Lifestyle

By Lindsey Johnson
Young girl laying on white couch on her stomach

Activity is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle as well as critical in childhood development. Many of us grew up outdoors and played outside every afternoon until dinnertime. We played wiffle ball, rode bikes, explored trails, waded in creek beds and climbed on backyard play structures. Today’s kids have cell phones, video games, do all their homework on a computer and have limited P.E. time. It’s time to get kids back in action for their current and future health and understand why children need an active lifestyle.

What are the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on children?

Beside the well-known effects of a sedentary lifestyle such as obesity and low energy, sedentary behavior in children can also lead to some of the same health conditions seen in adults. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), a 2023 study conducted by Hanifah, Nasrulloh and Sufyan on children in Indonesia determined that “sedentary behavior may also cause alteration in the cardiovascular system by increasing blood pressure, cholesterol level and risk of heart disease. Children who maintain sedentary behavior are associated with a chance of type 2 diabetes and lower bone density later in adulthood.” This study also found that sedentary behaviors can lead to poor mental health outcomes.

A 2022 analysis of the prevalence of childhood obesity by Tsoi et al. found that from 1999-2000 to 2017-2018, the prevalence (total cases) of childhood obesity rose from 14.7 to 19.2% and severe obesity from 3.9 to 6.1%, 6.1%, according to the NLM. The 2023 SEARCH for Diabetes Study reported that the adjusted incidence (new cases) of type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents in the United States nearly doubled from 2002-2003 to 2017-2018, from 9.0 to 17.9 cases per 100,000 per year. The increase in these health conditions among American youth is staggering and we must do what we can to reverse the trend.

How much activity does my child need?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children and adolescents ages 6-17 need 60 minutes (or more) of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. While this may seem like a lofty goal if your child is fairly inactive, it’s an ultimate gold standard and any progress you can make over time towards that goal will benefit your child, both now and in the future. Just like you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, if your child prefers the couch, taking incremental steps will get them started.

How can we get kids moving again?

Regardless of your child’s personality and interests, there are many methods to sneak in extra movement throughout the week. Any activities that you participate in with them will make them more likely to continue (plus you are setting a good example and reaping benefits for yourself as well).

If your child likes sports or other after school activities such as dance or karate, this is an easy way to get in some structured activity. If scheduled activities aren’t in the budget or time allotment, there are many other creative methods to get kids moving.

Ways to help children develop an active lifestyle

  • Reward them for cleaning up the yard. Use an age-appropriate incentive and “pay” them for the number of pinecones/sticks they collect in an hour.
  • Take a family walk or bike ride after dinner.
  • Have them walk to the mailbox to collect the mail.
  • Create obstacle courses in the yard. Time them and repeat to see if they can beat their previous time. Compete with siblings and parents.
  • Take the stairs. Make it a habit to always use the stairs in any building less than five stories. You can start out with one flight at a time but gradually increase.
  • Park further from the store. This encourages everyone to get a few extra steps.
  • Invent creative games. For example, each family member guesses how many steps it is from the back door to the end of the driveway. Or each family member guesses how long it will take to run a certain distance. Who can hula hoop the longest?
  • Walk the dog. If you have a pup, involve kids on the walking responsibilities. Fido will thank you for the extra steps also!
  • Visit a trampoline park. Kids love jumping and flipping and playing!
  • Go bowling or play miniature golf.
  • Play paint ball or laser tag.
  • Explore local trails and parks.
  • Play hopscotch on the sidewalk or jump rope in the driveway. There are lots of fun variations of these childhood games and many different jump rope skills to master!
  • Incentivize children to complete chores. Vacuuming, dusting, putting away laundry, taking out the trash and scrubbing showers are all active tasks. (Plus, it benefits the whole family and teaches lessons about responsibility and cleanliness!)

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