Physical activity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, says U of T professor

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The 2020 ParticipACTION report card is out and it’s nothing to brag about. The national non-profit group that promotes healthy living and physical fitness gave children and youth a D-plus for overall physical activity and a D-plus for sedentary behaviours. It also found that only 39 percent of children (aged five to 11) and youths (12 to 17) met the national physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

“There are a number of reasons why Canadian children may not be as physically active as they should be, including a lack of opportunity or resources to participate in physical activity,” says Katherine Tamminen, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. 

“Some children may lack the physical literacy skills to participate in physical activity and families may be feeling stretched for time and overwhelmed managing the demands of family life.”

But, there is another reason why Canadian children are barely getting a passing grade for overall physical activity and sedentary behaviours this year. According to Tamminen, who was a member of the expert panel that worked on the report, restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic have made things even worse. 

“The disruptions to regular routines and physical activities such as sports and limited opportunities to play with friends and family, have created additional challenges. However, as families spend more time together than ever before, they can play a key role in getting kids back on track with physical activity,” she says.

“This report shows that parent physical activity is associated with children’s physical activity. Parents and family members can role model healthy behaviours and being active as a family encourages more physical activity, as well as more connectedness among family members.”

Tamminen suggests parents and children make specific plans about how, when and where they can be physically active to ensure they follow through on staying active. Creating a family plan around screen time is another idea.
“Planning alternative activities instead of screen time, prioritizing screen-free family time is important. As is keeping in mind that physical activity doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. It can include things like increasing active transportation such as walking or biking, spending time outdoors and going for hikes or walks together.”