Ontario's Healthy Kids Panel recently proposed a strategy to help kids get onto a path to health. The problem is that the path doesn't lead them into nature. Though the report quotes parents' comments and research showing kids spend dramatically less time outside than ever, it doesn't encourage time in nature.
That said, many of the report's recommendations should be implemented and supported locally, provincially and nationally to reduce the risks of obesity. Encouraging parents and children to be more critical about dietary choices and requiring more information and labelling from restaurants and food producers is long overdue.
Ontario isn't the only province working to reduce obesity rates and support parents raising healthy children, particularly in the early years. Alberta released relevant reports in 2011 and Quebec has had a ban on advertising junk food to children since 1980. No one can argue against public awareness and education around the benefits of healthy eating and active living. But a provincial, patchwork approach to addressing these issues isn't enough. We need a national strategy to get our kids eating healthy foods and being active in nature.
Although it seems logical that much of the time spent being active will take place outside, the Ontario report acknowledges that "many communities are not designed to encourage kids to move or be physically active...and have few safe green spaces." One parent in a focus group explains that the parks in his community are either gated or locked up once school is closed. So, even when there is green space, it's not always accessible.
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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>
"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>
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>
Last year, the David Suzuki Foundation conducted a survey with young Canadians and found that 70 per cent spend an hour or less a day outdoors. The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card says they spend almost eight hours a day in front of screens. So it's not that kids don't have time to be outside. It's just not part of their lifestyle.
Much has been reported about a recommendation by the Ontario panel to ban junk food advertising that targets children under 12. This has worked in Quebec and is being discussed in Alberta. But the approach has invited criticism from those who argue that people should have the right to choose. It's always tempting to focus on making bad things less accessible, but perhaps policy-makers should be more creative and focus on ways to make good things more accessible.
Being in nature is good for all of us. People who get outside regularly are less stressed, have more resilient immune systems and are generally happier. And it's good for our kids. Studies show spending time in nature or green spaces helps reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Even in built playgrounds, kids spend twice as much time playing, use their imaginations more and engage in more aerobic and strengthening activities when the space incorporates natural elements like logs, flowers and small streams, according to research from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Despite all the obvious health benefits of spending time outside, provincial and federal governments are failing to integrate a daily dose of nature into their policies. It's also something we as a society are failing to make a priority in the lives of our children. This inexpensive and effective way to make our lives healthier and happier should be an obvious solution.
We need to make sure our neighbourhoods have green spaces where people can explore their connections with nature. We need to ask teachers and school board representatives to take students outside so that nature becomes a classroom. And we need to stop making the outdoors seem like a scary place for children by helping parents understand that the benefits of playing outside outweigh the risks.
It will take public education and awareness-building as well as changes to the way we build cities and live in our communities to bring nature back into our lives. Connecting kids to nature every day needs to be a priority policy objective in any strategy for healthy children and could easily have been integrated into the recommendations from the Ontario Healthy Kids Panel. Taking our kids by the hand and spending time outside with them will have the added benefit of making us healthier and happier adults.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Leanne Clare. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
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