06/08/2011 09:12 EDT | Updated 08/08/2011 05:12 EDT

We Need a Social Shift for Physical Activity to Take Flight

You probably recall playing outdoors with your friends and siblings until it got dark, but that doesn't happen today. How can we fight the 'nature deficit disorder' afflicting our kids? How can kids get outdoors after school if they don't have safe places to play?

For those of you who grew up in the 1970s and earlier, you probably can recall jumping around in the back of your mom's station wagon and waving at other drivers, or perhaps being on a flight, and noting (or sitting in) a smokers' section in the back. Although it all seemed harmless, it was extremely detrimental to your health and well-being, and societal changes and laws have put an end to those practices.

But nostalgia goes the other way as well. You probably also recall playing outdoors with your friends and siblings until it got dark, at which point, you quickly rode your bike home. Today, you, your kids and grandkids are well strapped in the car and are safe from secondhand smoke on a plane; however, you won't see as many freewheeling children reaping the benefits of unstructured outdoor play.

We are in the midst of a physical inactivity crisis. Recently, the Canadian Health Measures Survey showed that only seven per cent of children are meeting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.

Active Healthy Kids Canada has shown that, in the prime-time after-school period from 3 - 6 p.m., only about 15 minutes of this type of recommended activity is being enjoyed.

But, it is not just our kids who are suffering from this deficit; only 15 per cent of adults aged 18-65 are getting the recommended 150 minutes a week.

What is going on?

There are many barriers holding us back from being as physically active as we can be. We are spending too much time sitting sedentary in front of screens -- whether at home, work or play. We rely too much on our cars and not enough on active transportation. We have lost touch with nature and the benefits of the great outdoors. Balance eludes us as our workplaces, schools and extracurricular activities demand more of our time. Funding to programs and organizations that support activity are at low levels. Our neighbourhoods and streets often do not provide a safe zone for physical activity.

How do we find workable solutions?

In Canada today, parents, caregivers, schools, government organizations, corporations and not-for-profits all need to work together to address the issue. For example, how can kids get outdoors after school if they don't have safe places to play? How can kids cycle, wheel or walk to and from school if they don't have safe routes? How can kids run in the playground if there are municipal bylaws that disallow it? How can kids access local facilities and programs if they don't exist and/or parents can't afford them?

It is important that, as parents and caregivers, we ensure that we limit screen time during the after-school period and encourage our kids to be outdoors. We know that, if kids are outdoors, fighting the 'nature deficit disorder' afflicting our kids today, there is a higher likelihood that they will be physically active.

Let's all make sure we put physical activity front and centre, for our future and for our grandchildren's future. You don't have to run a marathon -- you have to start with a single step. What will your step be?