With the warmer weather approaching and the school year winding down, it’s time to start thinking about ways to move more outdoors. Being active has many health benefits for the whole family. Physical activity helps improve movement skills and fitness, develop strength, bone density, and flexibility. It helps adults and children feel better by developing self-confidence and improving mental health and well being. Activity can also help you maintain a healthy body weight.
Children and adults who meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines are less likely to develop chronic health conditions such as Type II diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity has also been shown to improve fatigue and perform daily tasks with greater ease.
How much physical activity should my family get?
According to the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, children aged one to four years of age should be getting 180 minutes a day of physical activity at any intensity. Children aged five to 17 should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Adults should aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity. More than this is even better for all age groups. Moderate activities like walking and biking should be balanced with vigorous activities such as running or playing soccer. It is important to balance structured activities and organized sports with unstructured and informal time outdoors. Start off gradually and think about moving more than you currently do.
What about screen time and sitting?
Children aged five to 17 should be getting less than two hours per day in front of a screen. Children under two should not be getting any screen time and children two to four years of age should be getting less than one hour per day. Screen time includes watching television, playing computer games, and surfing the Internet. Children who have more screen time are at greater risk of developing heart disease, so less is better. Summer is a great time to start minimizing time in front of those screens and take advantage of longer days.
How do I get more active?
1. Encourage outdoor play.
Children who are regularly given an opportunity to play in nature usually show better coordination, motor skills, balance, and agility. Outdoor play can be unstructured allowing children to use their imagination, play together, and develop problem-solving skills.
2. Plan regular family outings that involve physical activity and have fun.
Be a positive role model for your children by participating in activities together. If your children see you enjoying physical activity, it can motivate them to join in. Consider exploring a new park, trail or playground. Check out www. halifax.ca/trails or
www.halifax.ca/rec/PlaygroundsinHRM.php to find one in your community. HRM has many supervised beaches and outdoor pools, which are great options on a hot day. Or simply play a game together in the backyard. Kick a soccer ball, have a game of tug of war, play hide and seek, throw a Frisbee or bike to a nearby park after dinner instead of turning on the TV. Yard work and gardening are other activities the whole family can enjoy.
3.Look for opportunities for your child to learn a sport, join a team, or attend a summer camp. Learning a new sport or skill is a great way to build self-esteem and confidence. Children and youth who are involved in team sports develop skills in leadership, teamwork, and discipline. HRM has many accessible, inclusive, and affordable programs including summer, sports and specialty and adventure camps.
Check out the Recreation Program Catalogue at www.halifax.ca/rec/.
4. Limit screen time.
If your family has a lot of screen time, consider setting a limit on daily screen time and start reducing it gradually. For example, start by reducing screen time by 15 minutes and work down to your goal. Summer is also a wonderful time for local events, festivals, and activities. Bedford Days take place from June 29 to July 3. There are many opportunities to be active during Bedford Days. Consider walking to the parade or fireworks, or taking in some of the activities at DeWolf Park. Take your kids to the playground, throw a ball around, or take a walk down the boardwalk.
Lastly, safety is important for everyone when becoming more physically active. Remember to start slow when beginning something new and gradually increase your intensity. Ensure you have the proper safety gear (such as a helmet when biking) and supervision. During the summer months, don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat, drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, and that an active lifestyle is fuelled by healthy foods. Most importantly, have fun.
The Community Health Teams offer many free programs to help support clients to better manage their health, including programs on physical activity, emotional wellness, parenting, managing risk factors, and nutrition.