Tag Archives: play

Physical activity is essential for children. Here’s how they can (and should) get it.

Regular physical activity is essential for optimal growth, development, and health in children. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, first published in 2008, recommend that all children and adolescents should do at least one hour of physical activity each day. Most of this time should be spent in moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

Additionally, children should include muscle and bone-strengthening activity at least 3 days a week as part of the 60 or more minutes per day. The importance of physical activity for children and solutions for how to make it work is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Kids on playground


These activities should be appropriate for their age, be enjoyable, and offer variety. In younger children, active play that involves running, jumping, and climbing meets the call for aerobic as well as muscle and bone-strengthening activity. Older kids can get these types of exercise through sports, physical education in school, or other active pursuits.

Unfortunately, most kids don’t meet these recommendations. According to one survey, only about 30 percent of high school students participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity during the week prior to the survey. That means that less than a third of high school students meet the recommendation! Worse, 14 percent of high school students did not participate in 60 or more minutes of physical activity on any day in the week leading up to the survey.

A different survey showed that only 42 percent of younger children participated in at least 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity on most days of the past week. This is surprising considering that, for younger children, pretty much anything that involves being active counts!

So why aren’t kids getting enough activity? As much as it would be nice to blame television and video games, this isn’t the only problem. While it is true that many kids spend nearly as much time sitting in front of a computer or TV screen as they do in school, the real issue is that adults, including parents and educators, don’t encourage participation in activity.

Almost all elementary, middle, and high school age children are in school for at least 6 hours per day, yet less than 10% have access to daily physical education. Other opportunities, including activity breaks during and between classes, recess, and active transportation to and from school are limited. In fact, in an effort to dedicate more time for test preparation, PE and other activities are among the first to be cut.

At home, parental example and encouragement are important determinants for children’s activity. Active parents are likely to have kids who are active, and this lifestyle tends to persist through adolescence and into adulthood. Kids who are encouraged by their parents to play sports or engage in active play or other activities are 65% more likely to do so. Considering that less than half of U.S. adults are active on a daily basis, this positive influence may be missing.

What can we do to promote activity in children in our community? First, most of us could stand to be more active ourselves, so we should start by modeling good activity habits and include our children and grandchildren. Going for a walk in the neighborhood, to the playground, or doing yard work is a good start. Second, we should demand that kids be provided with opportunities for activity in school. Not only is it good for their health, but children who are active in school tend to learn more and do better on tests. Finally, we should limit sedentary pursuits such as video games or watching TV and encourage kids to do something active.


drparrsays blog footer

The kindergarten guide to health.

I often get the opportunity to speak about exercise, nutrition, and health. Sometimes the message is tailored to a specific audience. Other times I have the challenge of providing information that would be relevant for everyone, from students in preschool to their parents and grandparents. It turns out that the advice I would give the youngest children applies to everyone. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes four tips that are appropriate for all ages.

https://flic.kr/p/58nn9a


Eat a rainbow

Of fruits and vegetables, of course. You have probably heard that you should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In truth, you should get about twice that. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals and are a good source of fiber. It turns out that dark and brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are rich in these essential nutrients. For example, even though spinach and iceberg lettuce have about the same number of calories, spinach contains significantly higher levels of iron and potassium. Red and orange fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant vitamin linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Eating a variety of colors will make sure you get all of the essential vitamins and minerals and make meals and snacks more interesting.

Play every day

According to the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, children should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, with an emphasis on vigorous activity. While this recommendation can be met through sports, there are benefits to unstructured play, especially in younger children. The important thing is that kids have opportunities to be active at school and at home. Like children, adults should be active every day, preferably doing something we enjoy. Since adults don’t spend time running around playgrounds, we get much of our activity through exercise, but the benefits are the same. Regular activity is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, improving strength and fitness, and preventing disease in adults and children.

Eat breakfast

Children who eat breakfast every day perform better in class and on standardized tests, have fewer absences, and are less likely to be overweight. A good breakfast can improve memory, attention, and alertness in kids and adults. Eating breakfast is also associated with healthier choices for meals and snacks throughout the day. This is important for losing and maintaining weight. In fact, 80% of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off report eating breakfast every day. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!

Don’t spend too much time watching TV

Or playing video games, or in front of the computer. A typical child spends almost as much time each week in front of a screen as they do in school! This is a major contributor to childhood obesity for two reasons. First, what we now call “screen time” is mostly sedentary, replacing opportunities for activity. Second, television viewing exposes kids to advertisements which promote eating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of TV time per day. Kids who limit their screen time also get more sleep and do better in school. By the way, these same problems apply to adults, too. So do the benefits of reducing screen time.

As I write this I am reminded of the essay “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum, which recounts simple lessons we learned as children that are relevant at all ages. I think the idea that the simplest lessons apply to everyone holds true for exercise, nutrition, and health information, too.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Sometimes kids do get good activity and nutrition education in school. Here are two examples.

Earlier this week I wrote about the fact that most children will miss any meaningful education about nutrition, activity, and health when they head back to school. But this isn’t always the case. Some schools include health education in the curriculum, but most don’t. But others do promote healthy eating and exercise elsewhere in the curriculum (daily PE, for example), opportunities for activity throughout the day (recess, letting kids move around in the classroom), and providing healthy meals and snacks.

This is critically important, since good nutrition and physical activity are necessary prerequisites for children to learn and grow.

kids playing


Sometimes I hear about schools that have implemented robust health education programs and individual teachers who make an effort to add activity and nutrition to the “testable” subjects they teach. I am also familiar with two educators who have made nutrition and physical activity a priority both inside on outside the classroom.

One is my brother (@mrkevinparr), a fourth grade teacher in Washington state. Several years ago he decided to address the childhood obesity problem he saw among his students by teaching about healthy eating. Since there was no room in the curriculum for this topic, he created a way to do it while teaching math. This inspired the students to think beyond their class and organize a community health fair.

The other is a longtime friend who was a principal of an elementary school (now district superintendent) in Michigan. He made physical activity a priority through several initiatives including implementing a walking school bus, installing a track around the playground, and encouraging teachers and students to exercise before, during, and after school. (Check out this video!)

So…it can be done, even in the context of an environment that doesn’t support teaching healthy habits. This isn’t to say that parents don’t play an important role in teaching their children healthy habits. But many parents don’t (or don’t know how). Considering the importance of healthy eating and activity for achievement in school and in life in general, schools are a natural place to address these topics.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Back to school 2015: What kids will STILL be missing!

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the experience of heading back to school. But it’s really about what most kids won’t experience when they are in school—any meaningful education about nutrition, activity, and health.

walking school bus


It’s back to school time for kids in our area. Students, parents, and teachers are starting another school year filled with opportunities for children to learn and grow through math and science, reading and writing, and art and music. To be sure, this is time well spent since these subjects help kids build a strong foundation that will help them succeed in school and beyond, something that is widely understood and appreciated.

But children should also learn about good nutrition and physical activity, since both good health and good education are essential for lifelong happiness and success. In most schools, though, most kids won’t experience much meaningful education about nutrition, activity, and health. In fact, opportunities for children to be active in school, either through formal physical education or more informal play and recess, has declined over the years. And good nutrition isn’t likely to get much classroom time at any level and the food served in most schools hardly sends a positive message about healthy eating. These are missed opportunities!

The message that children need to eat breakfast before school is well-known and many schools offer breakfast for kids who don’t get it at home. Similarly, lunch is an important part of the school day. In addition to providing energy to support growth and learning, these meals also present an opportunity to teach children about healthy eating since formal nutrition education isn’t part of the curriculum at most schools.

The same is true for physical activity. Research shows that activity can positively affect several factors that are related to academic performance. These include skills (attention, concentration, and memory), behaviors (classroom conduct and homework completion), and academic achievement (test scores and grades).

The effect of physical activity on brain may be due to physiological adaptations that are associated with enhanced attention, better information processing and recall, and improved attitudes. And it doesn’t seem to matter if the activity is delivered through physical education classes, classroom activity, recess (especially outdoors), or extracurricular activity—it’s the movement that matters!

The point is that good nutrition and physical activity support academic success and including them in schools is a natural fit. Research and practical experience shows that nutrition and physical activity have a positive effect on learning. In many ways, health education is just as important as reading and math, topics schools don’t trust parents to teach on their own, to future success.

Some argue that parents, not schools, should be responsible for promoting physical activity and good nutrition. I disagree! Since nutrition and activity improve academic performance, schools are the perfect place to teach about healthy lifestyles. There is also no guarantee that children will have opportunities to eat well or be physically active when they go home, so school may be the best chance for many kids to get these benefits.

Given that most children will get only limited opportunities for physical activity and good nutrition school, these topics necessarily become “homework.” Since most of us could stand to be more active and eat healthier ourselves, we should start by modeling good habits for our children and grandchildren.

Going for a walk in the neighborhood, going to the playground, or doing yard work along with preparing healthy meals and snacks is a good start. Parents and community members should also express their concerns to lawmakers and administrators in an effort to get more health education included in the school day. We should treat nutrition and activity like we treat other subjects. How would you feel if your child’s school wasn’t teaching math?

This isn’t new, of course. I have written about the both the importance of physical activity for growth and learning for children (and adults, too) and the impact of these missed opportunities before. And I’m certainly not the only one to take notice. Probably the most widely known advocate in this area is Jamie Oliver, and his efforts made nutrition and health in schools topics for discussion among parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians alike.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr