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Updated 26 October 2015

The benefits of our kids being physically active

Despite our national guidelines that children get a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate to heavy exercise each day, research suggests that fewer than half do, with teenagers being the worst.

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The first topic we are tackling is physical activity levels in our kids. Our 2014 Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) Report Card fact is that at best, only 50% of learners are active enough.

Despite our national guidelines that children get a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate to heavy exercise each day, research suggests that fewer than half do, with teenagers being the worst. I find this so hard to believe as my kids never seem to stop and I totally encourage that.

Ironically, while I am focused on keeping my kids active, my high school sports report card indicated that I skillfully  managed to avoid compulsory sport for 3 terms!  That in itself is a whole other blog post!

With the exclusion of Physical Education at South African schools, there is much more responsibility for us parents to ensure that our kids are active.  I am in a fortunate position where Sun Valley Primary School attended by my 9 year old son has a 1km Walk-It Circuit which the kids complete during school hours. 

This circuit has been designed to enhance fitness amongst the students, as well as build muscle and assist with co-ordination.  There are also Movement Songs they perform at weekly assemblies, which not only provides the kids with entertainment in seeing the Headmaster dancing on stage, but also gets them active and “wakes up” the brain.

Although I am sure I’m preaching to the converted, here is a refresher of the benefits of our kids being physically active:

- strong muscles and bones

- decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

- better sleep

- weight control

- a better outlook on life

The activity levels of my Tribelet’s vary.  With my oldest being at Varsity and staying at res, her time is taken up largely by studying.  Luckily after being so active in high school, she has chosen to continue playing hockey, even if only on a social level.  My middle 2,  who are at high and primary school, have to take part in compulsory extra mural activities. The problem I have, is not getting them to take part, but rather having them settle on one sport per term!  My youngest is at playschool and although the school doesn’t offer any extra activities like Play Ball, they have an amazing playground and she is active there.

My week-ends pretty much consist of me playing Mom’s taxi, then standing next to a sports field with a cup of good coffee, supporting the kids.  Although this does make for early morning wake up’s on Saturdays, I feel a certain sense of accomplishment knowing I am rearing active kids.  Also, the lessons learnt from taking part in sport are invaluable and I feel make for well-adjusted children. 

Last year, when I still had 2 Tribelet’s attending Primary School fortunately less than 1 kilometer away from home, I would let them walk to school and back, weather- permitting.  This not only helped by allowing me to leave for work earlier, therefore avoiding the dreaded traffic - but the kids themselves loved it. I did have a certain sense of guilt and a niggle that I was in line for “Worst Mom of the Year” Award when I first sent them off walking to school but they were aged 13 & 8.  But then another mom offered to give them a lift which they declined because they preferred to walk!

Fortunately for us, living in the Southern Peninsula provides us with plenty of options to enjoy the outdoors and keep active.  While some of the SANParks trails on our side are closed at the moment, the option of Cape Point is still available and a great day out.

When Fatimah and I compared our kids’ activity levels, we realized that as much as school physical activity (compulsory and extra mural) has an impact on how a child develops physically, so does the home environment.  Especially with an urban lifestyle designed around a daily commute with little activity. In spite of Physical Education being excluded from the curriculum, the school Fatimah’s Daughter attends, classified as an independent school, offers weekly physical education classes which are graded in learner’s progress reports. In addition, her little one participates in weekly extra mural Play Ball classes and has recently joined the local girls’ rugby club. Although new, the club is proving to be surprisingly popular with the local girls. This is possibly due to the big influence club rugby has played in the lives of their fathers and brothers - and proves that a sporting culture can and should be encouraged within the home first! She is lifted to school and back – then attends Madrassah (Islamic school) and does homework in the afternoon – then its bath time, supper and bed.

Weekends are often taken up with mundane activities and errands, but special effort is made during the warmer months of the year to get activity levels up with beach and park days. Although Fatimah remembers her childhood as an active time, running around the neighborhood burning up excess energy in bursts of physical games, races and ‘street sport’ like cricket, her daughter prefers to play games on her tablet and watch cartoons indoors., This is a mindset Fatimah and her support network (mom and sister) have actively encouraged. Without doubt- as she gets older, concerns for her safety will be weighed against her ability to assess, avoid and manage potentially dangerous situations  in her neighborhood. So there will always be a battle with being physically active as well as staying safe at the same time. With the rates of crime committed against women and children in South Africa, the child’s safety has to take precedent.

We asked some of the other Mommies what effects they thought physical activity had on their kids:

“My daughter is definately happier when she is active - she gets very bored, frustrated and cranky when she is stuck inside on a rainy day or when she can't move around.” Maz Halliday of www.caffeineandfairydust.com

“It contributed significantly to his social interaction and confidence.” Chev Petersen of www.chevslife.com

A suggestion made in the HAKSA 2014 was that our teachers should be provided with training and support to promote physical activity and deliver physical education in the curriculum.  Also, in the words of Prof Vicki Lambert of UCT’s Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Division: “We need to reclaim our neighbourhoods.  It seems the days of cricket in the streets and riding bikes are gone; we need to bring those activities back.”

A couple of suggestions which are fun and will assist in keeping your kids physically active include:

- Choosing a gift that will encourage physical activity like a soccer or a rugby ball when your child is  invited to a birthday party. Regular family walks around the neighborhood which are always great fun.  If a have a dog, even better.  A great idea I recently read about was giving your kids 5 things to identify along the walk, which turns it into more of a game. 

- Going old school and bringing out the kite. 

- Beach walks, assuming you live on the coast.

- Starting a vegetable garden with the kids.

- Doing a parkrun – a 5km run/walk circuit set up in most suburbs for the whole family to take part in. best of all, it’s free!

We would love to hear from you, so comment below and tell us how you keep your kids active?

Read more:

Get Moving for your Health

5 ways to get your exercise groove back

20 reasons to get moving

 
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