In the U.S., only 1 in 4 children meet physical activity guidelines, and only 1 in 3 meet the screen-time limit, according to a report published by The American Academy of Pediatrics. Just 14% of middle and high school-aged children engage in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Objective assessments paint an even more bleak picture.
We know that less physical activity and more screen time hinder a child’s early development. These negative impacts on a child’s cognitive, behavior, and emotional skills persist in school and adolescence.
Sedentary habits such as less physical activity and more screen time increase the risks of childhood obesity and weight issues. On the other hand, research published in one of the top journals in medical health found that children who engaged in more physical activity and less screen time had better mental health outcomes, even during the COVID-19 pandemic; experts found that even one day a week of physical activity was associated with better mental health outcomes.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns have led to the closure of care centers, schools, and local recreational spaces. Young children miss out on their everyday school, extracurricular, and social opportunities. Health experts are concerned that this lack of physical activity and more screen time might fuel a pandemic of childhood health issues. Work from home can sometimes lead to less than optimum behavior modeling. Parents and caregivers share the responsibility of ensuring their kid gets enough physical activity at home.
One thing is clear: Less physical activity and more screen time are associated with worse physical and mental health.
Guidelines for physical activity to support your child’s emotional and physical well-being
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends some time and some form of physical activity every day for everyone. The World Health Organization also suggests that to grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more.
- For infants less than one-year-old, interactive floor-based play and at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread are recommended. Grasping toys will support hand-eye coordination, so allow your kid to cruise around to get the toys. Tummy time will increase core strength and coordination. Increase the space of a child’s crawling investigation area gradually!
- For toddlers, between 1-3 years, at least 180 minutes a day of physical activity with different fitness intensity is recommended. Walking in the neighborhood, park, zoo, free play outdoors, or in a playground can help your child develop motor skills. Running, throwing, catching, kicking, and swimming are good ways to keep toddlers active.
- For pre-school kids between the age of 3-5 years, at least 180 minutes of physical activity every day with at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity is recommended. Running, throwing and catching, falling and tumbling to learn to tuck head, keens, and arms, hooping and jumping, cycling, striking sports, skiing, and others provide your child with a range of physical activities.
- For elementary kids, aged between 5-10 years, and pre-adolescence, at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity on most days, including muscle and bone-strengthening activities, is recommended at least three days a week.
Remember that these activities should also aim to encourage fun and socialization – so choose games and activities preferred by the child, mixing fitness preferences, active transportation, and daily chores.
3 effective ways to ensure your child is getting recommended physical activity every day during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Limit sedentary screen time
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, screen time is not recommended for up to 18-24 months. Use only if necessary, such as when a parent is out of town. For children 1 to 5 years old, AAP recommends limiting non-educational screen time to about 1 hour or less per day and up to 3 hours on weekends.
Screen time and physical inactivity are linked because more screen time keeps the children glued to the screen and promotes unhealthy habits such as snacking. Children up to 2 years now engage in more than 3 hours of screen time per day, and about half of school-aged children reported more than 2 hours of screen time, with 16% reporting more than 4 hours of screen time every day.
Urban kids are most at risk due to the limited physical space. Some parents may not be comfortable visiting local parks as frequently during the pandemic due to health concerns and the ability to maintain safe physical distancing. One best practice is to have a family media plan to help limit children’s sedentary screen time and encourage more movement around the room.
- Engage in reading and storytelling
Use playtime to reduce screen time. Promote behavioral management and social development beginning at two years of age and encourage a regular physical activity regime by five years of age.
Shared reading, listening, and dancing to audio songs and stories are fun family activities that will keep your kids screen-free and ensure they are getting enough exercise every day. Dancing along to songs and listening to stories on the Jooki player is one way to make physical exercise entertaining for the whole family.
- Ensure good quality sleep
Exercise helps children fall asleep faster and sleep well. And good sleep is vital for the body to nourish itself every night. Health experts have found that short sleep duration is linked with the development of obesity and high blood pressure in children. It impacts overall health and well-being.
Quality is important to feel refreshed and energized for the next play session! Screen-viewing leads to irritable sleep and decreased cognitive and psychosocial health. This behavior tracks into later childhood and adolescence.
The use of interactive toys such as the Jooki player not only provides screen-free time for your kids but also helps them hit the daily recommended target of fun, play and exercise!
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