We don't have to tell you that never in human history have kids sat around as much as they do today. At the risk of sounding alarmist, one could go so far as to call the current situation a crisis.
For thousands of years, kids have played. Remember playing? Through the centuries, eons before the electric age, kids played endless games of agility and strength, from races to tug-o-war to relays. Boys and girls alike played with marbles, balls, tops, sticks. They invented competitions themed around wrestling, dancing, racing. They played tag, leap-frog, and countless other spur-of-the-moment games to fill their days.
In addition, throughout recorded history, and certainly unrecorded history as well, kids have actively helped their parents with farming, tending animals, homemaking, countless household duties, many of them requiring strength and endurance.
Then came the 20th century. Television, yikes. Air-conditioning, which began keeping kids inside more than ever.
Then came the current century, along with the worst blow to child exercise yet: electronic games, tablets, smartphones. Today, children eight and younger spend about 50 minutes a day staring at a mobile screen. From age nine and up, the numbers get even worse.
The history of the active child has suddenly come close to a grinding halt: one in three American kids and teens is now overweight or obese, and obesity has become the number one health concern among parents in the United States, topping even drug abuse and smoking.
Certainly diet is a crucial component, and there are countless studies, books, articles and programs with the purpose of helping kids eat better, smarter, less. But physical activity is every bit as essential.
It's not just about what they eat.
It's about how they move.
For a human being to be physically active is natural, healthy, normal. We must come to realize that the sedentary era in which we are living is an aberration -- and as parents, we all have to consciously work to counter the forces working against the active lives our children need to lead.
Perhaps we can call obesity, and all the health risks and social disadvantages that come with it, the number one reason kids need to be active. (In fact, research shows that children who are active 60 minutes per day demonstrate lower rates of obesity.)
But check out these equally significant advantages to kids being active:
· Aerobic activity has been shown to increase the size of essential brain structures and number of neural connections.
· Higher test scores in reading and math
· Frequent activities requiring a high degree of balance and coordination have been associated with improved emotional response
· Decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety in children
· Promotes self-efficacy with regard to health and self-image
· Play-based activity requiring a high degree of sensory input helps develop a broad array of skills that make physical activity more enjoyable later in life
As you can see, even if your child is at a healthy weight, there are still plenty of important reasons to get them up and moving -- which is especially important during the summer months, when there's no P.E. or recess times when they can run around with friends.
Fortunately, the market is responding to the situation, with inventive and thoughtful exercise camps and fitness programs designed especially for today's kids.
Kids don't know any better. We parents do. We owe it to their futures to do whatever we can, whether it means carving new time out of our schedules to be active with them, or looking into outside options -- to keep their bodies moving, their muscles flexing. In short, we must make activity and exercise the new normal.