Reaping the Benefits of Making and Keeping your Family More Active
We all know it’s important to be physically active, but sometimes the stress of trying to fit everything we need to do into our busy lives can mean that physical activity becomes less of a priority. It can be hard enough to motivate ourselves to get moving, let alone trying to motivate our kids to be physically active as well! But there are so many benefits to be gained, not just from being active, but from being active together.
What are the Australian guidelines for physical activity?
While Australian guidelines for the required amount of physical activity differ for children, young people and adults, the message is the same: for optimal health benefits every individual needs to achieve the recommended balance of high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and 24-Hour Movement Guidelines
The Australian government has produced a set of guidelines and recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep that is evidence-based and supported by the World Health Organisation.
Guidelines for children and young people aged 5 to 17 years:
- At least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous, most aerobic, physical activity per day.
- Several hours of light physical activity per day.
- Bone and muscle strengthening activities, worked into the recommended hour of vigorous activity required each day, on at least 3 days per week.
- No more than 2 hours per day spent on sedentary activities – such as recreational screen time.
- Break up long periods of sitting as frequently as possible by interspersing them with periods of vigorous physical activity.
- Consistent bed and wake-up times that allow for an uninterrupted 9 to 11 hours’ sleep for those aged 5-13 years and 8 to 10 hours for those aged 14-17 years.
While following the recommendations might seem hard at times, the benefits of reaching them are intrinsically linked to better health. Your kids will have better cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and metabolic health and fitness, improved body composition, stronger muscles and bones, greater self-confidence, and improved cognition, concentration, mental health and emotional regulation, which will also help to boost their academic achievements.
Guidelines for adults aged 18 to 64 years:
- Be active on most days – preferably every day – each week. However, any physical activity is better than none, so if you don’t currently do any physical activity, start small and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
- Accumulate 150-300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous physical activity – or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous physical activities – per week.
- Muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days per week.
- Minimise the number of hours per day spent on sedentary activities – such as recreational screen time – and break up prolonged periods of sitting as frequently as possible by interspersing them with periods of physical activity.
How can you build activity into your day?
There are a number of ways you and your family can build more activity into your day. For example:
- For short distances consider walking or riding your bikes.
- For longer distances you could walk or ride part of the way.
- Park the car further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way together.
- Get off the train, bus or tram a stop or two earlier and walk the rest of the way – and encourage the kids to do the same when travelling to and from school.
- Use the stairs instead of taking the lift or using the escalator.
- Use your lunch break to go for a walk or a run – this will also get you some vitamin D and fresh air and give your eyes a break from looking at a screen.
- Set an alarm on your (or your child’s) phone, tablet or computer as a reminder to turn off technology and get up and move around.
Most importantly, parents can’t underestimate how important it is for them to be healthy role models for their children, so limit your own recreational screen time and get up and be active too.
How can you and motivate your family to stay more active?
Encouraging your kids to be more active can sometimes seem difficult, especially at the end of a busy day. If your goal is simply to get your kids moving more, you could enrol them in an after-school sports team or activity program. Team sports or social activities like soccer, touch football, netball, basketball, cricket, dancing, athletics, gymnastics, and swimming squads are all great ways for your kids to get active and learn how to socialize and interact with other kids and work as part of a team. Government incentives can often help with the costs associated with organised sports and activities.
However, there are plenty of free activities that will get your kids moving more and that you can do together:
- Walk or ride to school with them.
- Take the dog for a walk – or, if you don’t have a dog, go for a family walk after dinner instead of watching TV.
- Take the kids to your local park and kick a ball around, play with a frisbee, climb trees or swing on the monkey bars.
- Go for a bush walk, or a hike or go rock-climbing.
- Take them to the local bike ramp or skate park and practice bike riding, using a scooter, skateboarding or roller skating in a safe but fun environment.
- Give them to help with chores like vacuuming, sweeping and mopping floors, dusting, hanging out the washing, or getting out in the yard and doing some gardening.
We often let the weather decide whether we get out and get active. If it’s extra hot or cold or raining, we can be tempted to use the weather as an excuse to stay inside and do nothing. If that’s the case, consider indoor activities.
If it’s hot, go swimming or ice skating. If it’s cold, perhaps you could try hot yoga or squash. If it’s raining, or you just don’t want to go outside, you could try dancing, indoor rock climbing, Pilates or martial arts. You could even use a fitness DVD or app to guide you. Exercises that use resistance bands or your own body weight are easy to do indoors and can be made into fun activities and challenges to engage the whole family.
What are the benefits of staying active as a family?
There are so many benefits to be had from being active as an individual, but there are even more benefits to being physically active as a family. Exercise has been proven to promote the release of endorphins (happiness hormones), so as well as providing a wealth of physical health benefits, exercise can help to improve our mental wellbeing – so when we engage in physical activity as a family, we become a happier, healthier and more cohesive unit.
Staying active as a family not only improves everyone’s physical health and wellbeing, but it also helps families to build lifelong healthy habits, improves relationships and strengthens family bonds, encourages better communication, and creates a happier home life together.
So, however you choose to get active, do it as a family, and reap the physical, mental and emotional benefits!