TORONTO - Many Canadian kids are failing to make the grade when it comes to reaching physical activity targets, with too few hours devoted to active play and too much free time fixated on TV, computer and game screens.
Active Healthy Kids Canada released its annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth on Tuesday which paints a grim picture of the activity levels of many Canadian youngsters.
Jumping rope, tag, hide-and-seek and Red Rover may conjure fond memories for many adults where such spontaneous outdoor activities were staples of childhood. But the 2012 report card finds today's kids aren't spending sufficient time engaged in active play.
An "F" grade was assigned in active play and leisure, with 46 per cent Canadian kids getting three hours or less of active play each week — including weekends. What's more, 63 per cent of kids' free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary.
At lunch and after school, kids are getting only 24 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. It is recommended children and youth get at least 60 minutes of such activity daily.
Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada, said active play is often the "overlooked sibling" of the physical activity equation.
"It doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be equipment-intensive, it doesn't have to be led by us, the parents or the playground supervisor or the coach or anyone," he said in an interview from Ottawa. "This is the business of childhood: let kids play or reduce the suppression of their natural desire to play."
Beyond reducing sedentary behaviour — activities that involve little physical movement and a low expenditure of energy — there are many beneficial byproducts of active play, noted Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.
"(Kids) develop physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally through active play, through interaction with different environments, different movement experiences."
But whether it's kids glued to TVs, computers or games or parental phobias about potential dangers, screen time and safety worries are seen as barriers limiting opportunities for outdoor play.
The report finds kids in Grades 6 to 12 spend seven hours, 48 minutes each day on screens. That figure outpaces the recommendation of no more than two hours of screen time daily.
A survey featured in the report reveals 82 per cent of mothers cite safety concerns as reasons why they restrict outdoor play, such as worries about crime, traffic, outdoor darkness, lack of supervision and neighbourhood dangers like bullies and rundown buildings. In another poll, 58 per cent of Canadian parents say they're very concerned about keeping their kids safe and feel they have to be overprotective of them.
Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipAction, suggests one potential solution to help allay fears could be to have parents or caregivers alternate supervising kids outdoors. She also recommends streetproofing kids to inform them of basic safety measures, and encouraging them to play with a buddy.
Murumets also suggests making family time active time, such as an after-dinner walk, or heading to the park or playground to kick a ball around or shoot some hoops.
For parents feeling pinched for time, parents can also integrate kids in everyday activities.
"Kids can help us do yardwork, or even if you are out there cutting the lawn, your kids can be playing at the same time," said Murumets, whose organization is launching a play-focused campaign this fall. "You can keep an eye on them, you're doing your thing and they're doing their thing."
Tamara Grand works at the Port Moody Recreation Complex and also trains private clients, mainly women in their late 30s into their 60s. But despite her busy schedule, the wife and mother of three works to ensure her kids stay active.
Her 13-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter participate in taekwondo, while her seven-year-old son plays ball hockey. Beyond structured activities, the kids will spend most weekdays outdoors for an hour after school, with hockey nets, scooters and soccer balls or brainstorming different games. Weekend walks are also part of the family routine.
Still, Grand, who lives in the Vancouver suburb of Port Moody, said her kids sometimes need nudging to shut off screens.
"They love their electronics like most kids their age, and I think if we didn't encourage them to get off they would probably spend most of their day on them," said Grand, noting computer time is limited to after school and a little bit after dinner.
The 44-year-old, who blogs at http://fitknitchick.com, said one of the things she observes among many clients is a tendency to overstructure kids' activity time. While their kids get lots of activity playing hockey and soccer or going to dance and gymnastics, they tend not to have time for unstructured play.
"That worries me, because when I was growing up it was all unstructured time. It was `Go outside we'll call you when dinner's ready' and we just found our own things to do."
Grand said she encourages her clients to lead by example when it comes to getting kids moving.
"We spend way too much time focusing on work and things that fill up our day, like Facebook and social media — things which I find I'm guilty of because it's partly my job," she said.
"But if we really want our kids to get more physically active we have to do it first and show them — not tell them."
Constantly on the go? "Stick it in your bag," says Patel. "It's something you can do anywhere you are." A solo jump-rope workout, like this <a href="http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/arms/express/jump-rope-workouts/" target="_hplink">10-minute sculpting routine</a> from <em>Fitness</em> magazine, can burn over 100 calories, and tone the shoulders, chest arms and legs. Some gyms even offer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jordan-turgeon/jump-rope-workout_b_1235545.html" target="_hplink">jump-rope fitness classes</a>. Or, if a less structured jump sounds more like your thing, grab some friends for some Double Dutch. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/adwriter/5826718940/" target="_hplink">adwriter</a></em>
While she's recently taken to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/12/michelle-obama-jumping-jacks-world-record_n_1143016.html" target="_hplink">jumping jacks</a>, First Lady Michelle Obama is a big proponent of hula hooping as a fun way to get active. In 2009, she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/22/best-michelle-obama-photo_n_328933.html" target="_hplink">performed 142 "swivels"</a> before dropping her hoop at a healthy kids fair at the White House, the AP reported. But it's not just for kids! And now, with weighted hoops, hula hooping can produce even more dramatic results. It <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/19/weight-loss-success-jen-moore_n_1341791.html" target="_hplink">helped Jen Moore lose 140 pounds</a>. "It's something you can do in front of the TV," says Patel, "rain or shine!" <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stringberd/929274139/" target="_hplink">stringberd</a></em>
Play On The Playground
"You may be surprised how much you actually <a href="http://www.seventeen.com/health/tips/outdoor-workout-ideas" target="_hplink">work your arms and abs while on the swings</a>," National Academy of Sports Medicine instructor Rick Richey told Seventeen.com. You'll work leg muscles climbing the stairs up to the slide and arms and abs from swinging from the monkey bars, he added. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/colorblindpicaso/2540688582/" target="_hplink">colorblindPICASO</a></em>
There's a reason so many celebs have <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/dancing-with-the-stars-gladys-knight_n_1452199.html" target="_hplink">slimmed down during stints on reality TV show "Dancing With The Stars."</a> Dancing is a serious cardio workout -- but can feel more like a party. "Dance, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to get in shape, as you're working multiple muscle groups all at the same time that in turn keeps your body constantly challenged," fitness expert <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/dancing-with-the-stars-health-weight-loss_n_1411588.html" target="_hplink">Tracey Mallett told HuffPost in April</a>. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/12/first-zumba-class_n_1418895.html" target="_hplink">Try a class like Zumba</a>, or burn calories more surreptitiously with salsa lessons or a night on the town! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/audihertz/6022929764/" target="_hplink">John Bollwitt</a></em>
Ice skating, one of our <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/winter-workouts_n_1125504.html" target="_hplink">favorite winter workouts</a>, can burn up to 500 calories an hour. Inline skating can burn over <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20420506_2,00.html" target="_hplink">400 calories in just 30 minutes</a>, according to Health.com, thanks to the side-to-side movement in your lower body, plus the way your core engages to keep you balanced. You'll also seriously work the smaller <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/28/winter-fitness-outside-seasonal-sports_n_1171917.html#s577032&title=6_Ice_Skating" target="_hplink">lower-body muscles</a> that play key roles in keeping you upright. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kcolwell/2433110916/" target="_hplink">kcolwell</a></em>
Who can forget this classic '80s fitness fad? The ankle hoop counted rotations as the user swung the attached ball around and around and around. <em>TIME</em> named the Skip-It one of the <a href="http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2049243_2048660_2049212,00.html" target="_hplink">100 greatest toys of all time</a>. Not only is it a cardio workout similar to jump-roping, you'll also engage the core and lower-body muscles used for balance. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zingersb/161779921/" target="_hplink">zingersb</a></em>
Think outside the sidewalk-chalk box! You can mix up traditional hopscotch jumps by moving side to side as if hitting each corner of a square, as shown in <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFJpIjYfydw" target="_hplink">this Exercise.com video</a> or by focusing on <a href="http://fitbie.msn.com/exercise/hopscotch-men" target="_hplink">balancing on one foot</a>, according to FitBie. Think of hopscotch as essentially a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/plyometrics-workout_n_1399766.html" target="_hplink">plyometrics workout</a>, which has been shown to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627298?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum" target="_hplink">improve running performance</a>. You can even hop <a href="http://mizfitonline.com/2010/12/15/five-reasons-you-need-to-hopscotch/" target="_hplink">indoors with masking tape</a>, suggests popular fitness blogger MizFit. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bkoger/4791448741/" target="_hplink">Brandon Koger</a></em>
While it will undoubtedly take some practice to work up to 10 minutes of jumping on a pogo stick at a time, it can be a fun cardio workout, burning <a href="http://www.thatsfit.com/2009/12/02/pogosticking-for-weightloss/ " target="_hplink">20 to 40 calories in those 10 minutes</a>. Pogo stick company Vurtego claims celebrity fans such as <a href="http://thearcmagazine.com/play/0908/" target="_hplink">Matthew McConaughey and Allison Hannigan</a>. Just make sure to practice on a flat, open area and consider wearing some protective gear in case there are tumbles! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/4819534221/" target="_hplink">sean dreilinger</a></em>
The <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaMY8XakxQ8" target="_hplink">"anti-gravity" shoes</a> popular in the '80s just may be the precursor to today's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/12/kangoo-jumps-mario-godiva-green_n_924580.html" target="_hplink">Kangoo Jumps</a>, running boots of a sort with springs on the soles, used in classes at various gyms and by solo adventurous fitness fans. But that bounce isn't only playful, it's also an easier workout on your joints than running or jumping. Kangoo Jumps <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/health&id=7497802" target="_hplink">absorb up to 80 percent of the shock</a>, Beth Kruper, a Kangoo Jumps rep, told ABC. And they may up the calorie burn, too. "When you run in them you're using more muscles than you would in sneakers," Kruper said. "So if you usually burn 100 calories in a mile, you'll burn 130 to 140." <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamarazzi/6865835105/" target="_hplink">magnificent momma</a></em>
Paintball Or Laser Tag
Take group fitness to a competitive level with an outing to a nearby paintball or laser tag arena. While it's tough to estimate <a href="http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/messageboard.asp?imboard=6&imparent=27177758" target="_hplink">the number of calories you'll burn</a>, it'll definitely have you running, jumping, squatting and crawling, all in the name of the game, with some <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/healthfit/index.ssf/2009/07/paintball_a_workout_and_it_als.html" target="_hplink">bursts of anaerobic sprinting</a> to boot. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sombraala/2234093021/" target="_hplink">Greg Boege</a></em>