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Cardiovascular Health

Playing Offline: Balancing Screen Time with Real-World Activity

Photo: Courtesy of MI PHAM on Unsplash

Today, American children ages 8 to 18 spend nearly 7.5 hours per day and more than 50 hours a week watching television, plugged into a second screen on social media or playing online games, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Not only does that add up to a lot of distractions and time away from physical activity and homework, these sedentary activities have long-term effects on health and create a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease.

Simple solution

To reduce the amount of time kids spend in front of the screens available to them in today’s media-saturated world, parents must incorporate more physical activity and outdoor playtime into their children’s daily routines.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers these suggestions on how to motivate kids and young adults to unplug and incorporate exercise into their day which will help them develop a lifelong passion for movement and exercise:

  • For an hour a day, don’t tell your children that exercise is something they should be doing—go outside and have fun moving with them. Go biking or hiking together, or join younger children on the jungle gym, which is a great piece of equipment for building strength and coordination for both kids and adults.
  • Include children in your outdoor tasks such as gardening, mowing the lawn or washing the car, by turning them into fun activities rather than chores.
  • Plan outings and activities that involve walking, such as trips to the zoo, a theme park, the mountains or the mall.
  • Check if your local gym or fitness center offers special outdoor exercise programs for children.
  • Create a reward system to motivate children who are staying active. Recognize good fitness habits by rewarding them with new equipment, such as a soccer ball, jump rope or a bike. This will further encourage physical activity.
  • Emphasize the positive aspects of participation in organized sports, such as improved health, teamwork and self-esteem, and build up their confidence.
  • When trying to motivate teenagers to exercise, appeal to their need for entertainment and social interaction. Whenever possible, include their friends in the fitness activities.
  • Create a screen-time rule. Plan ahead and schedule a set time of day during which screens are allowed. Outside of this time, let them know that they will not be able to look at the screen and that you expect them to be doing something else such as playing with friends outdoors, doing homework or reading. Additionally, you can encourage children to be active even during the times when screens are allowed, as many video games can get the heart pumping. Encourage them to involve their friends or family for some healthy competition.

The bottom line is all kids, regardless of their weight, should have a balance between screen time and physical activity every day. Physical activity not only helps children feel better, get higher quality sleep, learn more effectively and have more energy; it also helps build self-confidence and reduces the likelihood of a vast array of preventable health conditions down the road.

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