As I was going for a walk around the neighbourhood with my mother the other day, we got to chatting about childhood physical activity. Specifically, I was voicing my worries to her about the current generation of kids who are growing up with attention-grabbing iPads and phones in replacement of physical free play. The way I, and many others in the field of kinesiology and childhood development see it, the current upward trend of anxiety, depression, and chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity are strongly associated with two factors: lack of physical activity, and lack of mindfulness. We need to teach kids how to move, and how to be mentally and emotionally self-aware. We need to do it now. With that being said, here’s a piece I wrote last year documenting one example of how we can reverse the trend of mindlessness and inactivity and hopefully create a happier and healthier future.
While an apple a day may in fact keep the doctor away, it appears as though regular physical activity has a much better chance at keeping our kids healthy. Regular bouts of movement and play has been shown to reduce certain health risks. As examples, hypertension, depression, and fragile bones are less likely to manifest when children get to move around more often (Janssen & LeBlanc, 2010). Furthermore, frequent movement leads to the development of core fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, or hopping. And while these skills may help a child dominate a game of red rover, fundamental movement skills are more importantly linked with better physical fitness and lower rates of obesity (Lubans et al. 2010). The positive impact that physical activity can have on children is so clear that researchers recently put out daily movement guidelines that included at least an hour of hard exercise, as well as several hours of lighter activity or play, every single day (Tremblay et al. 2016).
Now here’s the kicker (or lack thereof, haha). Children are not getting that amount of physical activity. Not even close. Recently, schools across Canada have been faced with severe budget cuts (Sherlock, 2015). Without adequate resources (teachers and gymnasiums, to name a couple), class sizes and children’s waistlines are on the rise (McGinn, 2016). Shockingly, many schools have even gotten rid of PE teachers (McGinn, 2016). And many of the schools that do have PE teachers, have non-specialized teachers who are unable to teach fundamental movement skills which again, are key to physical fitness and healthy weight maintenance (Lubans et al. 2010).
Fortunately, school boards, non-profits, and teachers are fighting hard to soften the budget cut blow. School boards are urging policy makers to put money into the resources that inactive children so desperately need (Sherlock, 2015). Non-profit organizations like Standup Kids and ActiveForLife are providing parents and teachers with educational resources to reduce sitting time and increase physical activity in elementary schools. Perhaps most importantly, it is the teachers of these schools who are taking matters into their own hands. Just south of the border in New York, 10-minute in-class movement breaks were recently implemented to combat shrinking PE and recess times (Baker, 2012). The results were significant, as student obesity rates dropped by 5.5% (Baker, 2012). It seems as though early years educators are beginning to see the surprising impact that short bursts of activity can have on improving students’ wellbeing, despite the absence of school resources.
In Vancouver, Canada, yoga instructor and elementary school teacher Isabelle Tang adds a twist (and a down dog, and a sun salutation) to her version of the 10-minute movement break. With the classroom space as the playground and classic games like freeze tag as the movement activity, she is seeing results in her students’ physical and mental health. “Incorporating yoga in the movement breaks has had a positive impact on students’ academic performance. Yoga enhances focus, attention, comprehension, and memory”, she said. As a mind-body practice, it seems as though yoga helps children achieve the same physical benefits that jumping jacks or squats would. Adding to that, the mind portion of the practice cannot be left out, as techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness clearly have mental and emotional benefits, according to Isabelle. As an example, she recounted how she taught one of her students a deep breathing exercise on the playground in order to reduce her “tummy ache”. For Isabelle’s students, yoga has “enhanced resilience and coping”, as well as “reduced anger, fatigue, anxiety, and tension”. Clearly, teachers can still keep kids healthy as the fight for physical education continues amongst concerned citizens and penny-pinching policy makers. With a little creativity and planning, any teacher can use yoga to increase physical activity, reduce sedentary behaviour, and promote mental clarity in the classroom. With that said, here is one basic activity from Isabelle for the many already-too-stressed-and-have-no-time-to-create-games teachers out there:
Freeze tag with “feelings yoga”
– One student will be “it”
– All the other students avoid getting tagged with some kind of modified movement (e.g. crawling, walking on toes, etc.)
– If students get tagged, they freeze and do an animal pose with an emotion
o For example, a “grateful giraffe” would stand as tall as possible with their hands in a prayer position above the head and look grateful
o For example, a “frustrated frog” would drop into a squat and look frustrated
– To be saved, one student must go next to the frozen student and copy the tagged students’ animal pose and emotion
– To calm the class down after the activity, teach them basic mindfulness techniques
o “What do you notice about your breath? Can you feel your heart beating? Let’s slow it back down by breathing in deeply and out for eight breaths”
As always, if you’d like to know more about, and start taking responsibility for your own health, fitness, and wellness, please reach out to Crux Fitness Richmond Fitness, Cloverdale Fitness, Walnut Grove Fitness for any of your personal training needs.
Patrick Koo – Personal Trainer at Crux Fitness Richmond
Crux Fitness is the best personal training fitness gym in Richmond, Cloverdale, Walnut Grove
Baker, A. (2012, July 10). Despite obesity concerns, gym classes are cut. The New York Times.
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/education/even-as-schools-battle- obesity-physical-education-is-sidelined.html
Janssen, I., LeBlanc, A.G. (2010). Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-aged children and youth. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 7:40.
Lubans, D.R., Morgan, P.J., Cliff, P.D., Barnett, L.M., Okely, A.D. (2010). Fundamental movement skills in children and adolescents. Sports Med. 40(12). 1019-1035.
McGinn, D. (2016, September 16). Experts sound alarm as more schools put phys-ed on back burner. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/fitness/experts-sound-alarm-as-more-schools-put-phys-ed-on-back-burner/article31934889/
Sherlock, T. (2015, January 15). School districts across B.C. planning deep cuts to balance budget. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from http://www.vancouversun.com/news/school+districts+across+planning+deep+cuts+balance+budgets/9746279/story.html
Tremblay, M.S., Carson, V., Chaput, J.P., Gorber, S.C., Dinh, T., Duggan, M., Faulkner, G., Gray, C.E., Gruber, R., Janson, K., Janssen, I., Katzmaryzk, P.T., Kho, M.E., Latimer-Cheung, A.E., LeBlanc, C., Okely, A.D., Olds, T., Pate, R.R., Phillips, A., Poitras, V.J., Rodenburg, S., Sampson, M., Saunders, T.J., Stone, J.A., Stratton, G., Weiss, S.K., Zehr, L. (2016). Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for children and youth: An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and
Metabolism. 41. 311-327.