Parents, take note! Letting your kids run around and play with their neighbourhood friends is essential for their physical wellbeing, say scientists who found that organised sports is not enough for kids to stay fit.
Researchers from Rice University in the US studied data gathered from 100 home-schooled children age 10-17 to back up their assumption that such activities are sufficient to keep children physically fit.
The data, published in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, proved them wrong.
The problem lies in how much activity is part of organised regimens, said Laura Kabiri, a sports medicine lecturer at Rice University.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children should get about an hour of primarily aerobic activity a day, but other studies have noted children involved in non-elite sports actually get only 20 to 30 minutes of the moderate to vigorous exercise they require during practice.
The researchers decided to quantify it through statistics Kabiri gathered about home-schooled children and adolescents as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at Texas Woman’s University.
“We assumed — and I think parents largely do as well — that children enrolled in an organized sport or physical activity are getting the activity they need to maintain good body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular development,” Kabiri said.
“We found that is not the case. Just checking the box and enrolling them in an activity doesn’t necessarily mean they’re meeting the requirements they need to stay healthy,” she said.
The researchers suspect the same is true for public school students in general physical education classes, where much of the time is spent getting the class organised.
“When you only have 50 minutes, it’s very easy for half that time or more to go to getting them in, out and on-task,” Kabiri said.
Researchers said that parents would be wise to give their children more time for unstructured physical activity every day.
“Parents know if they attend activities and don’t see their kids breathing and sweating hard, then they’re not getting enough exercise,” Kabiri said.
“So there should be more opportunities for unstructured activity. Get your kids outside and let them run around and play with the neighbourhood kids and ride their bikes,” he added.