Hear that Americans tend to be physically inactive, and you wouldn’t bat an eye.
Yet hearing just how much we’re not moving can be a bit of a shock.
Consider the study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Measuring children’s physical activity both in and outside of school, its authors included data from 453 students from several Massachusetts school districts, 30% of whom were overweight or obese.
Of these students, only 15% met the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Only 8% met the recommended 30 minutes of MVPA during school time.
The numbers are even worse for girls. Only 2% managed those 30 minutes. Just 8% met the 60 minute minimum.
“We thought that the school day would offer a protective effect where there would be few differences in activity levels between boys and girls and children in different weight categories during the school day as compared to weekends and out-of-school time. Instead, we found that girls and overweight children were less active for all measured segments, including during the school day,” says Kristie Hubbard, PhD, MPH, RD, first and corresponding author on the study and an adjunct instructor in the department of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine….
This is one reason why more states are finally stepping up requirements for physical education, confirming its integral place in the school curriculum. As of next year here in Oregon, all schools will be required to provide 150 minutes of physical activity each week for younger kids – even more for older ones.
Creating a Culture of Movement
Where schools have yet to incorporate more movement into students’ days, it continues to be our responsibility to encourage and facilitate as much physical activity for our kids as we can. We need to allow and create opportunities for them to move – and to help them see that a life tethered to smartphones and tablets and other screens pales in comparison to a life of movement and imaginative play and exploration outdoors.
Indeed, when you merge the Yoga Calm curriculum with environmental education, you can’t help but be impressed by how quickly and deeply children respond to and bond with the natural world. And research continues to show how time in green spaces actually changes our brains, improving mood and attentiveness, supporting mental health.
Now combine that outdoor time with exercise and active play, and you get an even more potent dose of what a recent New York Times post called “the closest thing to a wonder drug.” Repeatedly, science has shown how it benefits physical and mental health alike, in a way no other single intervention could ever possibly do.
Summertime Is Outdoor Time
With summer here, it’s the perfect time to work more active outdoor time into your family’s life. All the extra daylight makes it easier to plan outdoor activities after work – a family walk or bike ride, swimming, a game of catch or Frisbee in the yard or down in the nearest park – as well as more active adventures for the weekends, from hikes through the woods to canoeing to exploring tidepools or simply playing on the beach.
Even just doing things “a little bit differently” can make outdoor activities feel like a vacation, according to one researcher on vacation and happiness. For instance, when going to a place you’d normally drive to,
“Take a bike instead of the bus” or car. Research also suggests that people appreciate their leisure most when it includes elements of challenge, connects us with the people we care about, or helps us to feel a sense of purpose, she said.
To add some or all of those elements to these few weeks of summer, planning is essential. As a bonus, planning and anticipating something new can boost our happiness. Once we’re carrying out our plans, said Dr. de Bloom, we need to detach from our usual roles (and our gadgets), relax and savor the experience.
It all starts with intention.
What intention will you create and act upon to get yourself and your family up, out, and moving more, having fun together this summer?
For contrary to popular belief, exercise doesn’t have to be a slog. Just move. Play. Laugh. Relax.
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