When I read posts about investing in your children, I usually assume it’s to do with a financial plan for education. However, investing in the future of your children also involves their health and well-being. It doesn’t involve money or savings accounts, but has lifelong effects and the best thing you can do for your child.
The Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) is interested in promoting the health and wellness of all South Africans. One of their new areas of interest is how parents can promote the health of their kid’s – particularly physical activity, screen time and sleep.
They share their top three recommendations for parents on helping kids reach their full potential. SSISA would also love to hear your success stories about how you get your kids active, put health boundaries on screen time, and make sure they get enough sleep. If you share your stories, you can also stand a chance to win a membership to their Kids on the Move programme. Entry details below.
Physical activity plays a vital role in children’s health and well-being, and has a wide range of benefits for not only their physical health – helping to maintain a healthy weight and reduce risk for diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease – but for their mental health as well.
Kids who are more physically active have been shown to have better self-esteem; less stress, anxiety and depression; and improved cognitive and academic outcomes.
Physical activity is not just sport and physical education at school, but includes other activities like walking (for example, to school, or on a family outing) and active play. Research consistently shows that children who spend more time outdoors are more physically active, so whenever possible, encourage kids to be out rather than in.
The evidence also shows that children who are more active when they are young stay active through childhood and into adolescence, and often into adulthood as well. So it is important to get kids active early, so they can enjoy the benefits later in life as well.
What is recommended
Children who are of school-going age (6-18 years) should be getting at least 1 hour of physical activity every day in order to realise these benefits. This should include activity that is intense enough to get them to sweat and breathe hard, although activity of a lighter intensity is also good for them if it means less time sitting. Younger children (3-6 years) should be active for at least 3 hours per day, and this can be activity of any intensity.
The lure of the screen
In contrast to the benefits of physical activity, lots of time in front of screens has been shown to have a number of negative consequences for kids, which is a sobering thought in this era of ubiquitous screen-based technology.
Research shows that kids who spend more time on screens will be more likely to be overweight, and have unhealthy eating behaviours, such as eating less fruit and vegetables, consuming more fast food and fizzy drinks, and skipping breakfast.
Kids with higher levels of screen time are also more likely to score more poorly in things related to their cognitive development and academic performance, including attention, maths scores, reading and language comprehension.
High screen time is also associated with a wide range of unpleasant mental health outcomes amongst children and adolescents: increased anxiety, social dysfunction and depression; low self-esteem; school disconnectedness; unfavourable behavioural conduct; and difficulties connecting with parents and peers.
What is recommended
The general limit for daily screen time is not more than 2 hours per day for school-going children, while some recommend not more than 1 hour for preschool children. For children under 2 years, the advice is no screen time at all.
Similar to physical activity, screen time behaviours tend to stick from childhood into adolescence and adults, so limiting these behaviours from an early age is essential.
Getting enough z’s
The importance of sleep for the health and well-being of kids is becoming an increasingly hot topic in research, and has been shown to be associated with healthier weight, better emotional regulation, academic achievement, and improved quality of life for youth.
Lack of sleep is particularly detrimental to adolescents, and inadequate sleep in this age group has been linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety and pain; low self-esteem, social support and life satisfaction; decreased academic achievement; a greater chance of engaging in future risky behaviour; as well as attention difficulties, withdrawal, tiredness, and aggression.
Screen time is a sleep thief – it not only takes up sleep time, but it also displaces behaviours that help with sleep, such as physical activity, and it exposes kids to artificial light that negatively affects their body’s sleep system.
What is recommended
While there are a number of different recommendations for kids’ sleep, the guidelines are generally around 10-13 hours of sleep per night for 3-6 year olds, 9-11 hours for 6-13 year olds, and 8-10 hours for 14-17 year olds.
All of these health behaviours, along with a healthy diet, help to set kids up for a future in which they are physically and mentally health, emotionally and socially adjusted, and prepared to do well at school.
Sports Science Institute of South Africa
The Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) would love to hear your success stories about how you get your kids active, put health boundaries on screen time, and make sure they get enough sleep. With your permission, these stories will be included in online material that SSISA is putting together, and may be used on their social media platforms, either with your name, or with a pseudonym.
If you would like your story to be included in a lucky draw, please comment below before Monday, 27 February 2017. Your email address will only be used for the lucky draw, and won’t be used with the story. Up for grabs is a one term membership at the Cape Town SSISA Kidz on the Move programme (2 days per week, 4-5pm Mon-Thurs), valued at R1030, which includes an assessment.
This post is not sponsored. Information provided by the Sports Science Institute of SA (SSISA). Stock image supplied. Graphic is my own.