It’s that time of the year again! Whether your kid’s summer activity was playing sports, riding their bike, swimming in the hot sun, or getting some activity chasing Pokemon with their friends, things are about to change! They are going back to school and sit at a desk most of the day, just like they are training for a traditional office job. So, what a better time than to talk about back to school fitness!
According to a 2010 survey by Kaiser Family Foundation, the average U.S. student is sitting at school an average of 4.5 hours a day. When you combine sitting at school with sitting in front of a screen, doing homework, and eating meals, kids are sitting 85 percent of their waking hours.
Just as more offices realize that prolonged sitting, even as little as two hours continuously, is terrible for health and productivity, getting our kids and families moving more needs to be right at the top of the back to school fitness check list.
Back to School Fitness Not Always Easy
Teachers and schools are under pressure to cram more instructional time into the school day, which often puts the squeeze on recess. It’s not easy at home, either. With the school year comes the added stress of homework, extracurricular activities, waking up early, carpooling and shorter days to squeeze it all in. Often times at the end of the day, not only did the kids sit too much, the whole family sat too much, with no one getting enough exercise. As a society, we fail to meet Physical Activity Guidelines provided by the CDC with more than 80% of adults not meeting the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80 percent of adolescents not getting enough aerobic physical activity.
We already know that physical activity, essential to overall health, can help control weight, reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve mental health according to the CDC. But, there are also more studies indicating that physical activity improves performance in academics. Research by James C. Hannon, assistant dean of the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, suggests “resistance exercise,” e.g. weight lifting, using resistance bands etc., is effective in improving academic performance.
So, what to do?
The CDC recommends that children and adolescents do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day with a focus on aerobic activity such as running, muscle strengthening such a push-ups, and bone strengthening such a jumping rope. Getting active is easier than you think for the whole family. Some great resources to get started include the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, the American Heart Association, and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are a few other ways to help your kids fit fitness into their day regardless of your busy schedule.
- Lead by example: Research shows that only about 1 in 5 adults meet the CDCs physical activity guidelines. If your children see you exercise and make it a priority, perhaps they will, too. Find time for exercise before school with your children or encourage them to do it on their own. Researchers found that children who had an opportunity to run 15-45 minutes before class were less distracted and more attentive to schoolwork. These positive effects lasted two to four hours after their workouts. There are wonderful apps like the 7 Minute Workout or home exercise systems like Excy (short for exercise cycling) that kids can do on their own to get their bodies moving and you can actively participate and even do mini challenges together. Even a family push up challenge can be fun!
- Talk to the teacher: As the school year starts, don’t hesitate to ask the teacher their policy on encouraging movement throughout the day. Many educators are pushing for movement changes in the classroom that range from encouraging movement breaks, putting exercise bikes in the classroom, and letting the kids stand-up at their desks during the day. All children need activity, but if yours needs more, ask the teacher to use your child to run errands to the office. Encourage standing desks or exercise equipment in or just outside the classroom for quick breaks. We currently have Excy in a couple of classrooms, which the teacher allows the children to ride anytime they feel like they need exercise and more schools are embracing the idea of exercise equipment in the classroom. Find out your child’s school policy on bringing items from home that they enjoy like their own football, jump rope, or basketball. Consider buying them a Fitbit or a less expensive pedometer to quantify their steps, using their phone alarm as a reminder to move their bodies, or consider an Apple Watch to remind them to move after prolonged sitting.
- Take exercise breaks and stand during homework. As we’ve mentioned above, your child just spent a lot of time sitting at school and you can imagine that the last thing they want to do when they get home is sit down and do homework. Rather than pressure yourself and your child to hammer out homework without a break, have them do quick short bursts of exercise several times throughout homework and join in on the fun. Let them stand during homework time and consider letting them take exercise breaks on things like a pull-up bar, a quick sprint on a treadmill, doing pushups together as a family, or take a spin on Excy while reading.
- Talk to your kids about exercise for health: Let them know the benefits of exercise for their bodies and their brains. Talk about the unrealistic expectations or hard work that went into the celebrity bodies on the coverage of a magazine when you check out at the grocery store. Encourage them to play hard at recess and to take exercise breaks throughout the day. Most kids don’t want to bust out jumping jacks in front of their friends, but provide them with some other ideas like standing up and stretching or doing calf raises. There’s a great article titled “Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain” in Edutopia that talks about how incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning. If your child doesn’t like to exercise but cares about their grades, help them make the connection between exercise and boosting their academic performance.
- Exercise while watching TV or playing video games. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children in the United States ages 8 -18 spend on average 7.5 hours a day with media and technology screens. Surely we hope your kids don’t fall into that category, but if your family routine does include letting the kids spend a little down time watching TV or playing video games in the evening, encourage activity during this time. Use commercials to do jumping jacks or pushups, keep a jump rope nearby for family competitions, and we have some families who won’t let their kids play video games without cycling Excy. Do whatever works for your family!
The CDC has some great ideas for making physical activity part of a child’s life, which is a powerful read as we think about back to school fitness.
Just think: your kids can exercise with Excy and then you can crank it up to burn 600 calories in an hour whenever and wherever you want. Excy takes up minimum space, is totally efficient, and it’s fun.