Our busy lifestyles can make it difficult to find a spare moment for exercise but we need to make it a priority, says Dr Phil Kieran.
BY the time I get home in the evening the only thing I want to do is collapse onto the couch and watch whatever box set I have recently started. I know this isn’t the healthiest thing to do but I’m probably not the only parent who switches on in order to switch off.
We all know exercise is good for us and we all know we should be doing more of it but it seems to the be the easiest task to avoid and is often the first casualty of our increasingly busy schedules.
Children need exercise at least as much as adults do and the minimum recommended amount of exercise daily for your child up to the age of 18 is 60 minutes. This doesn’t have to be making your five year old go out on a running track for an hour because, as most parents know, young children are never stationary.
Even before they can crawl, they have an uncanny ability to move from the safe place they were laid down to somewhere they shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, they gradually lose this desire to keep moving.
Adults should be aiming for 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. This is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly. Kids will follow the example set by their peers and their parents and without good role models, there is often a decline in physical exertion as they get older.
Reports show that up to one in three children in early secondary school years do not meet the lowest expected level of physical fitness. Children will see their friends taking less time to play exertional games like football or chasing at lunch time in school and they will also see whether or not their parents prioritise activity.
I have been guilty of not setting a good example about exercise for my own kids over the past few years, with work becoming busier and less time for relaxing and sport.
Exercise has a more profound benefit on health than any other intervention you can think of and good habits around exercise ingrained in childhood tend to persist into later life.
Exercise will reduce the risk of heart disease, anxiety, depression, obesity, cancer, arthritis, short sightedness (outdoor activity especially) and osteoporosis. In fact, there is an excellent YouTube clip called ‘23 and a half hours’ which sums up all the benefits of exercise.
To help get your kids more active you need to look at the lifestyle you show them. Do you enjoy exercise? Do you run around with them when you go out to a park or down to the beach? Do you make time for your own exercise or, like me, do you neglect it?
A great initiative around the country is the ParkRun. These are 5K runs organised free of charge by volunteers in many locations and a number of these are also now offering 2.5K runs for kids. A 2K run is a great way for you to improve your own fitness but also to introduce your child to how much fun physical activity can be.
Playing sports is another way of trying to help keep your kids active. It is incredibly difficult to bring a sporty child to multiple after-school activities but sport and, in particular, team sport is a great gift to give them. It will keep them fit, teach them discipline, to care about things outside themselves and help build friendships that can last a lifetime.
I recently realised how setting an example influences my own children and have started trying to change my behaviour. They now see me as I leave for a run and I have taken up a role as an assistant coach with my son’s team (despite having a very poor personal ability in the sport).
The important thing is they see me taking part, being enthusiastic and having fun. This I hope will help them to develop and keep healthy exercise habits into the old age.