Kids at play
Fighting childhood obesity isn’t just about exercise, say experts, it's about family time and play
Saturday, Jul 12, 2014 06:00 am
Sean Livingstone pushes through the last leg of the race, a 3.25 kilometre run. He propels himself to catch up and surpass the other runners.
It’s almost painful, he says. But once he crosses the finish line, it’s all worth it.
“I finish one and I think ‘That was really hard, but it was fun, I want to do another one!’” says the 14-year-old.
Sean is a member of the Gators Triathlon Club. He’s been competing in triathlons since he was four years old.
Triathlons are a great event to introduce to kids because of the variety it offers, says Nora Johnston, director of the Alberta Centre for Active Living.
“Unless your child is an elite athlete, put them in a variety of activities so they get used to activities they may not be introduced to at school. They could end up being life-long activities rather than specifically sport.”
Increasing the amount of physical activity kids get beyond organized sports is one of the recommendations of the 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card on physical activity for children and youth.
This year, the nation’s physical activity levels received a “D-” grade.
Canadian parents are continually looking to schools and structured activities such as organized sports to get their kids moving, states the paper.
But sport alone is not going to solve the obesity epidemic, there needs to be a focus on increasing physical activity throughout the day such as active transportation – walking to school, active play and parents role modelling an active lifestyle.
Sean was eager to try triathlon after watching his older sister complete the St. Albert Kids of Steel Triathlon. That first year, he was using a flutter board to swim and had training wheels on his bicycle.
At that age, the kids’ triathlons (which are shorter distances than the adult ones) are aimed at participation rather than competition, says his mom Donna.
The intention was always to start her kids in sports at an early age, but not to pressure them to compete, she says.
“He seems to do it as much as he enjoys it. When he feels like he’s doing too much, he lets us know.”
Since that first triathlon more than a decade ago, the sport has become a family “addiction.”
Sean competes in two or three triathlons per year, while dad David is training for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton at the end of August.
His sister Kelly works for the Edmonton Triathlon Academy and Donna acts as a volunteer, cheerleader, training partner, bike fetcher and the person that points-out-where-you-left-your-stuff-in-the-transition-zone-when-you-can’t-find-it.
“It was something that everyone could come together, take part in, train for … and everyone could be at their own level,” says Donna.
“Doing activity together is very important. Kids whose parents are physically active end up being more physically active in the long run,” remarks Johnston.
The Active Healthy Kids report found that 79 per cent of parents support their kids’ physical activity financially – through fees, equipment – but only 37 per cent of them say they participated or played active games with their children in the past year.
Watching kids mimic their parents exercise was one of the reasons Suzanne Bourgeois started up a CrossFit Kids class at her CrossFit Edmonton studio in March.
“One of my clients said to me, ‘Abby is trying to do burpees at home and she’s only two years old!’” says Bourgeois. “The kids are just really excited to be on the floor where their parents are.”
Bring back play
Crossfit Kids is focused on functional movement and good body mechanics, explains Bourgeois. At the youngest age group, age three to five years, children spend the 20-minute class somersaulting, balancing on their hands and playing games.
Play is also the emphasis of the kids’ yoga class Katherine Milliken offers at Wellness Within at the Enjoy Centre. She has been instructing yoga “on a small scale” for two- to five-year-olds since September.
“If I were to call it mindfulness, they probably wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about,” she remarks. “But I always make it really simple.”
Milliken takes the preschoolers on a bit of a yoga adventure. In locust pose, they pretend they are swimming at the beach. In warrior pose, they become surfers.
“Kids feel more freedom to make mistakes, fall and do something really silly,” says Lisa Babiuk, yoga instructor and owner of Soul Fitness Mind Body Studios.
The meditation aspect of yoga also resonates with kids, she says.
“Children really need to learn the opposite of what their parents do, that they have to go-go-go all the time. Downtime is so essential because when you do tasks that you need to do, you have a clear mind and you’re not feeling exhausted all the time.”
Authors of the Active Healthy Kids report card state that the tendency in Canada to “build more, do more and impose more structure” may be somewhat misguided.
“We have engineered opportunities for spontaneous movement (such as getting to places on foot and getting outdoors) out of our kids’ daily lives, and have tried to compensate with organized activities such as dance recitals, soccer leagues and PE classes,” it reads.
“Our country values efficiency – doing more in less time – which may be at direct odds with promoting children’s health.”
We need to bring back play, says Johnston.
“Play hide-and-seek, get the neighbourhood kids involved in a kick the can game. There are lots of activities that we did as kids that our children don’t have a clue about.”