The Sedentary Youth Athlete: Is Your Child Moving Enough?

Kids need at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity every day.

Students here in my home state of Vermont have already enjoyed three snow days this month.

If you're unfamiliar with cold weather states, snow days provide a fleeting glimpse of freedom to a kid. A completely unplanned day without school!

After our most recent day of winter weather, I asked four kids how they spent their special day of vacation. No exams, no homework, no teachers and in some cases, no parents. The world was their oyster!

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Students here in my home state of Vermont have already enjoyed three snow days this month.

If you're unfamiliar with cold weather states, snow days provide a fleeting glimpse of freedom to a kid. A completely unplanned day without school!

After our most recent day of winter weather, I asked four kids how they spent their special day of vacation. No exams, no homework, no teachers and in some cases, no parents. The world was their oyster!

Four different kids. All the same answer: "Video games."

I remember buying one of the first edition Xbox consoles when I was in high school. For two weeks, I was nowhere to be found, lost in Call of Duty, NHL 2003 and Halo: Combat Evolved. So I can't really blame the kids for spending their snow day being couch potatoes. But I fear that with this generation, this is more than an occasional thing.

For kids, movement is absolutely essential. Their developing brains and bodies desperately need lots and lots of diverse, vigorous movement. And while millions of kids currently participate in organized sports, big problems can arise if a kid is only caught moving during basketball or soccer practice.

Relying solely on organized sport practices and games to keep a kid active is unwise for several reasons. For one, it almost guarantees they won't get enough overall physical activity.

Even if they have multiple practices a week, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that children only spend about 30 percent of their organized sport practice time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous exercise. That equates to about 18 minutes of an hour-long practice.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services released physical activity guidelines in 2018. If you're a nerd like me and want to read 117 pages about physical activity, the release can be found here.

The guidelines include 60 minutes or more of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for kids aged 6-17. The "or more" is indicative of the fact that most research points to a "more is better" principle. A true ceiling to the benefit of increased physical activity in kids has not yet been accurately identified.

Another couple important excerpts:

"Children and adolescents who do not meet the guidelines should slowly increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in small steps and in ways that they enjoy...Children and adolescents who exceed the key guidelines should maintain their activity level and vary the kinds of activities they do to reduce the risk of overtraining or injury."

If a kid isn't moving enough, they need to find ways to increase their physical activity. If they are moving enough, they need to find different ways of obtaining their daily physical activity to prevent overuse injuries.

Kids need to play often and in many diverse forms. A couple sports practices a week isn't going to cut it. To receive many of the most important benefits physical activity has to offer, kids need to regularly play in unorganized and self-directed settings.

The human body has a "use it or lose it" rule. Basically speaking, if a child can squat at age 6 and continues to squat, they will keep the squat pattern. If they stop squatting, they will lose the pattern. This goes for most movement patterns found in one's movement library. A simple concept for such a complex human body.

What is becoming apparent is that if modern kids are left to their own devices, they tend to gravitate toward a sedentary lifestyle full of activities like video games, television and social media-surfing—just like many modern adults.

This creates a young adult who, if we look under the hood, will display poor health biomarkers like Resting Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and VO2 Max, while also being void of the movement competence that will allow them to be successful, healthy athletes both within their sport and over the course of their life. Use it or lose it!

To prevent the deference to sedentary life, what can a parent do to support their kid's active lifestyle?

Ensure that your child is getting at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day outside of their sport practice.

This could mean gym class, walking the dogs or playing with friends or siblings outdoors. Motivate your child to try new activities to avoid relying solely on organized sports (or worse, just a single organized sport) for movement.

And although an hour is the bare minimum goal, more is better!

Ensure that you, as a parent, are getting at least 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity) per week.

The aforementioned report offered these guidelines for adults. Kids take after their parents. They are heavily influenced by your own lifestyle and how active you choose to be. Set an example of physical activity that will help support and foster your child's interest in being active.

Try a new way to move with them every few weeks.

Play a little bit! If that means having the family play some racquetball at the local health club or going for a family bike ride, that's awesome. Try a new form of physical activity every few weeks to ensure that there isn't a reliance on any one specific type of moving.

This also lets your child experience many ways to be active, allowing them to constantly pick up new favorites. Kids who can proficiently run, throw, catch, bike, swim, skate, climb, swing, kick and jump tend to be the ones who are most active!

And if kids are able to regularly engage in free play, they'll often naturally gravitate towards a wide array of activities.

We cannot rely on organized sports to be the sole provider of physical activity for our children. Such an approach greatly shortchanges them of the movement volume and diversity that delivers so much benefit.

Parents, take a step back to consider if you're raising a sedentary youth athlete, or a young person who truly loves to move!

Photo Credit: cagkansayin/iStock

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Topics: YOUTH SPORTS