Excessive tablet time can undoubtedly have a negative effect, with reports claiming that too much screen time contributes to reduced social skills, lack of focus, sleep disorders and even obesity in children.
There’s another side to this debate, though, which is less about screen time and more about a lack of physical activity: it’s clear that – however much time your child spends with their device of choice – it should not be a substitute for a good old run around in the park or a game of rounders. Whilst staying active as a family has obvious benefits in terms of keeping children fit and preventing obesity, it also has a positive impact when it comes to learning: being physically fit boosts a child’s confidence, stimulates brain development, and can be very beneficial for mental health.
However, with one in five adults in the UK doing no exercise at all, and with sedentary office jobs on the rise, keeping active is something that the whole family may need to embrace if these positive habits are to be fostered in our kids.
According to NHS guidance, children should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can include everyday activities like walking or play, as well as team sports and dancing. It’s not essential to do the full hour of activity at once – it can be broken down into manageable chunks if easier.
Adults, by contrast, should undertake at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Within that, it’s recommended that adults strive to include some physical activity in their daily routines (rather than cramming all 150 minutes into one day).
Young or old, the kind of activity that is most beneficial for your heart is ‘moderate intensity aerobic activity’. You should aim to involve large muscle groups – legs, arms and shoulders – and reach a level at which you experience heavier breathing and an increased heart rate. However, you should still be able to carry on a conversation.
Children learn by example. By staying active as a family, your children will soon begin to appreciate the benefits of frequent exercise, and will come to view it as something fun, valuable and enjoyable to do. Here are some ways in which you can incorporate physical activity into your family routine – you’ll be feeling great in no time!
Walking is something the whole family can enjoy: it’s both fun and free! If walking to and from places becomes commonplace, not only will it give you a chance to spend quality time as a family, but you’ll also soon notice the difference in terms of your fitness levels. Avoiding the car during the school run is a great place to start. Cycling is something to consider, too; this can help alleviate stress whilst giving your heart a good workout.
Turn exercise into something that your children will look forward to – rather than dreading – by asking them which activities they particularly enjoy. Spend time with them trying a range of different things, prioritise their interests, and make it fun: use hula hoops, create an at-home obstacle course, or go running with the dog. Even if it’s a rainy day, you can get your heart rate up by playing games inside: try hide and seek, skipping, or dancing up a storm with a Wii or PlayStation game.
Carve time out at the weekend for a planned family activity – explore a national park, go swimming, or go on a charity fun run. Discovering new activities and creating special time to experience things together will not only be good for your physical health, but also will be a valuable bonding experience. You might come home with some great memories!
Geocaching ticks many boxes: it gives your family the chance to discover exciting new environments, makes geography and ecology interesting, encourages children to work as a team, provides ample mental stimulation and – most importantly – gives the whole family a chance to exercise in the fresh air. But what is it? Put simply, it’s a high-tech treasure hunt – with a modern twist. Using a GPS system (on your mobile, for instance) your task is to hide and seek ‘caches’ (small items) at different outdoor locations. Caches can be hidden anywhere – from remote to urban locations – and the co-ordinates can be downloaded from the official Geocaching website.
In conclusion: it’s hard to think of any downsides to undertaking regular physical activity as a family, but there are numerous benefits. If you’re not keen on exercise, there’s no need to worry – staying active as a family doesn’t have to involve formal exercise or anything overly challenging or dull. The simplest of activities – such as walking – or modern inventions – like geocaching – can offer something special and fulfilling for your family to enjoy: all you have to do is give them a try!