Physical inactivity – why we need to take action now.

For the first time in history, the kids we are teaching today are the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents – 5 years shorter!

The report card

d-minus-school-letter-gradeEarlier this year the Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released. Australia was awarded a D- for physical activity participation with the research finding that 80% of 5-17 year olds are not meeting the Australian physical activity guidelines of at least 60 minutes of exercise each day.

The research team used an international ranking tool developed in Canada to measure against 12 grades which will be compared against 14 other countries.

Among the 12 grades assigned in the Report Card, key grades include:

D- for Overall Physical Activity Levels
B-  for Organised Sport and Physical Activity Participation
D for Active Transportation (such as riding or walking to school)
D- for Sedentary Behaviours (screen time)

The science

The science is clear. Physical activity does more than create good health. It contributes to leadership, productivity and innovation. It lowers depression and crime, increases education and income levels, and generates return to businesses. It unleashes human potential, and this is what drives economies forward.

Physical inactivity on the other hand, can bankrupt economies. In 2008, physical inactivity in the US, China, India and the UK alone cost their economies $US200 billion.

The cost of physical inactivity or sedentary behaviours in Australia is equally alarming, with an estimated cost to the Australian economy of $13.8 billion in 2008. It is estimated that the cost in lost productivity due to physical inactivity equates to 1.8 working days per worker per year and it is estimated that 16,178 Australians will die prematurely each year due to physical inactivity.

The reality check

But let’s cut through the statistics and get down to what this really means … for the young people in our lives who stand to “lose” five years. The designedtomove initiative did just that and asked kids the question – what would they do with five extra years? Here’s what they said.

The challenge

When the Physical Activity Report card was released the Heart Foundation’s National Lead on Active Living, Associate Professor Trevor Shilton said the evidence can’t be ignored.

“We’re raising a generation of couch potatoes and if we don’t start to reverse this trend this will drive up health problems in the future – obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease” he said.
“We know what works. We need high quality, mandatory physical activity in our schools. We need to encourage and support our kids to stay active in everyday life – to be social and play outside, to walk and cycle in their neighbourhoods, do some household chores and limit hours of screen time.
“It requires a coordinated response – governments, communities, schools, families and individuals can all play a role, we just need to start the conversation.”
Surely our kids deserve to have those five extra years … What will you do in your school and community to ensure they get to enjoy them?

What you can do?

Peaceful Playgrounds Australia has a range of teacher friendly, ready to use programs that support teachers to increase the physical activity levels of their students while developing fundamental movement skills, learning personal and social skills and reinforcing literacy and numeracy concepts. Why not order your program today and start tackling the challenge.

Physical activity and the brain

Why Active Kids Make Better Learners

“Physical activity has dramatic effects on individuals’ physical and mental health,” according to Charles Basch in his report, Healthier Students Make Better Learners.

Put simply, educational outcomes are directly influenced by health.

Physical Activity Recommendations

This, coupled with the knowledge that the majority of school–age students do not meet the CDC guidelines for 60 minutes of physical activity daily, should concern us all. While we pour money into new, innovative, and different perhaps it would be wiser to shore up what we know works: reinstating physical education and physical activity opportunities in schools.

Not only should the physical health risks be a concern, but the findings out of the neurosciences and child development literature continue to make a compelling case for the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. This literature documents the importance of physical education and physical fitness and their effect on academic outcomes.
Physical activity and the brain infograhic
Physical activity (which leads to fitness) may also improve student physical health and well being. Fitness seems to buffer the deterioration of cardiovascular health, bone health, diabetes, and neurological body systems. Physical fitness and aerobic fitness are also associated with mental fitness and emotional health as well.

Health Benefits of Fitness and Physical Activity

Physical activity affects metabolism and all major body systems. The saying, “A strong mind and a strong body” are now well supported in research. Physical activity affects brain chemistry and cognitive functioning contributing to emotional stability, physical health, and the ability to learn. It is now clear and well supported that physical activity favorably affects cognitive functioning.

Three recent literature reviews conclude that school-based physical activity programs may result in short-term cognitive benefits (Taras, 2005), improve cognitive functioning among children (Sibley & Etnier, 2003), and do not hinder academic achievement (Trudeau & Shepard, 2008). These findings support the case for favorable effects of physical activity or physical fitness on cognitive functioning of youth.

Relationship between Academics and Physical Activity

The CDC report suggested that increased student physical activity and physical fitness can best be achieved through a comprehensive approach (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997) that includes physical education, wise use of recess [lunch] and after school times, co-curricular physical activity opportunities, and bicycling or walking to and from school. The nature and scope of school-based physical activity/education programs will vary with the resources available (e.g., human, physical, and social environmental) and with the level of commitment by school administrators.

School Physical Activity Opportunities

Both physical education and lunch have been found to increase physical activity in children. Quality physical education programs are encouraged to organise learning opportunities to ensure that 50% of the physical education experience is organised around physical activity.

Recess may be another appropriate time to promote physical activity. Research indicates that lunchtime can contribute significantly to children’s overall levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Yet, another type of physical activity opportunities in schools are called “brain breaks.” They are short 5-10 minute breaks within the classroom where students have an opportunity to stretch and move, thus integrating physical activities and academic concepts.

The Learning Connection put out by the Action for Healthy Kids Foundation points out many of the academic benefits and what you need to know to ensure your kids are healthy and ready to learn.

Physical Activity and Mental Health

It’s well known that routine physical activity benefits both body and mind. And there are no age limits. Both children and adults can reap big benefits. A study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores whether certain factors may help to explain the value of daily physical activity for adolescent mental health. Researchers from the Trimbos Institute in the Netherlands looked at two possible explanations for the link between exercise and good mental health. One was positive self image and the other was winning friends. They surveyed 7,000 Dutch students, ages 11 to 16.

Yale University child psychologist Alan Kazdin, the editor of Clinical Psychological Science, says the findings show just how bountiful the benefits of exercise can be. “I think it would be too strong to call it an elixir, but it has the broad effects of something like that,” he says.

Originally posted on the Peaceful Playgrounds website. Reproduced with kind permission from Dr Melinda Bossenmeyer.

Everything I’ve learnt in life I learnt in the playground

I watched a less popular girl, Allison, walk up to a group of four girls who were playing a game of handball. As she approached and asked, “Can I play?” she was quickly rebuffed. “The game is closed,” Janey, the ring leader, announced.

Given the school is a Peaceful Playgrounds school, I was surprised at the response because of the “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’” mantra. Allison, whose disappointment was obvious, turned to play another game. Fortunately, the playground was filled with alternate game choices and two other handball courts. Allison selected one of those courts and soon was involved in another game. This time she didn’t ask, but rather waited in line by the letter D.

Permission: is it a good idea?

It was an interesting observation for a number of reasons. I began to dissect what happened and why. In the first situation, Allison asked for permission to play. “Can I play?” allowed Janey the opportunity to respond and in fact, reject her request.

In the second situation, she simply stood in line and waited her turn. No one challenged her right to play. She didn’t ask permission but rather followed the rules of the playground and when her turn came she merely stepped onto the court. No one challenged her right to do so.

Entwined with the actions of young children was a lesson. When you act in accordance with the school rules (wait in line and go in when appropriate), that behavior makes rejection less likely.

Exclusion is not always playground bullying

I’ve been working on an online bullying prevention course for schools. This reminded me of what I’ve been writing about the way girls bully. Girls typically get involved with indirect types of bullying, for example: nasty staring, spreading rumours, manipulating friendships and excluding peers. The four girls who turned Allison away all participated in Janey’s decree of “You can’t play.” However, it wasn’t bullying as described, because there was no mention of a power differential. The intent to hurt was questionable. Although it didn’t meet the criteria for bullying, the activity was still hurtful, as evidenced by Allison’s reaction.

Multiple playground markings

Why didn’t Allison remind them of the school rule, “You can’t say, ‘You can’t play’”? I’m not sure. If that was the only handball court, perhaps she would have. This illustrates the importance of painting multiple markings of the same court. When we gathered information about children’s play choices, we observed that children often picked a less preferred game rather than wait in line on a Peaceful Playground.

This scenario is likely played out numerous times on playgrounds all across Australia every day. Below are a few key points that address this situation, relating to some of the philosophies and procedures in the Peaceful Playgrounds Program. The statements below explain some of the rules and procedures and the philosophy behind them.

1. You can’t say, “You can’t play.”

Whether or not a child invokes this rule, it illustrates the notion that all kids get to play all games.

Lanier Elem Painted Courts2. Multiple playground markings

Peaceful Playgrounds advocates painting multiple games with the same marking. For the reason illustrated in the situation above, if children want to play a particular game, they have options.

3. Kids pick an alternative playground game rather than wait in line.

We have found that multiple game markings are important. For example, if all handball courts have lines necessitating waiting in line, we observed that rather than wait in line children select a less preferred game most of the time.

4. Letting children solve problems on the playground.

We have operated under the philosophy that the playground is an opportunity for students to practice what they may face in life. Sometimes, in some situations, people may choose not to engage with certain people. The rejection on the playground or the ability to manoeuvre when faced with rejection is a life skill that needs to be developed. Sometimes the hard reality of life is that we are excluded.

Article originally posted on Peaceful Playgrounds Australia. Reproduced with permission.