Children are becoming less and less active these days. There are multiple endorphin-filled distractions that if allowed will have them stay at home all day on the sofa. Research from the US government states that less than one-quarter (24%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day (1) . It is not only the United States where children are shockingly inactive there is an epidemic of a greater proportion than covid in terms of lack of physical activity in our children across the world. The UK states only 44.9% of children in the UK in 2019 met the guideline of 60 minutes of physical activity per day and there is a worrying gap between genders and backgrounds with white British boys being the most active (47.2%) than others of different backgrounds and genders (2). In Europe it is much the same on average across EU countries, only around one in four 11-year-olds and only about one in seven 15-year-olds reported that they undertook moderate-to-vigorous exercise at least one hour daily in 2018.
Here again it is reflective of England that all countries in the EU, girls are less physically active than boys at both ages. Physical activity also falls sharply between ages 11 to 15 in most EU countries for both genders (3). On top of this the WHO states that globally, 81% of adolescents aged 11-17 years were insufficiently physically active in 2016. The WHO echoes England and EU’s statistics in that adolescent girls are less active than adolescent boys, with 85% vs. 78% not meeting WHO recommendations of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per day (4). The stats are appalling to see and whilst it is tough to find research on expatriate children in Phnom Penh but it can be presumed that there is a similar lack of physical activity here especially when there are so few green spaces for children to run around in Phnom Penh.
Why is a lack of physical activity dangerous?
You may be asking a similar question. My child is thin, they don’t eat a lot and seem perfectly happy. Your child being a healthy weight is great! However a lack of physical activity can lead to multiple developmental problems that can affect your child later on in life. It can lead to an energy imbalance wherein your child expends less energy through physical activity than consumed through diet which not only can lead to becoming overweight but it can affect their academics due to this imbalance (5). On top of this there are multiple increased risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cancers. Additionally a lack of physical activity can lead to lower bone density which in turn can lead to osteoporosis (6). On the other hand, regular physical activity can not only prevent these risks but can also help children and adolescents improve their cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing the previously mentioned health conditions. There are other benefits alongside the physical such as physically active students tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior). Additionally higher physical activity and physical fitness levels are associated with improved cognitive performance (e.g., concentration, memory) among students (1). A few more reasons to encourage your child to exercise:
Exercise aids in the development of social skills— especially true when they participate in team sports.
Children who exercise are more likely to keep up the habit when they are an adult - setting a healthy habit for life.
Struggling with bedtimes? Exercise tires children out but also improves the quantity and quality of sleep.
Along with the reduction in depression and anxiety it also builds self-esteem
Finally, exercise helps improve motor coordination which is important throughout life (6).
All these benefits just from simply having 60 minutes of physical activity per day
But why 60 minutes of physical activity per day?
Actually the amount of physical activity children need depends on their age. Young children aged 3 through 5 years need to be active throughout the day. Children and adolescents aged 6 through 17 need to be active for 60 minutes every day. It sounds like a lot but if your child goes to school then they may already be meeting the recommended levels of physical activity during their break time and PE lessons. If your child is homeschooled then it is worth considering creating time wherein a child can run around so that they too can reach the recommended threshold.
A recommendation of activities from the US Gov for children and adolescents aged 6 through to 17:
60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day.
Aerobic activity: Most of the daily 60 minutes should include activities like walking, running, or anything that makes their hearts beat faster. At least 3 days a week should include vigorous-intensity activities.
Muscle-strengthening: Includes activities like climbing or doing push-ups, at least 3 days per week.
Bone-strengthening: Includes activities such as jumping or running, at least 3 days per week.
Moderate activities means things that will make a child's heart beat faster than normal, breathe harder these may be something like an uphill walk to school a vigorous activity is one like playing tag during break time at school this will make a child’s heart beat much faster than normal and breathe much harder both of which are safe and great for the child’s physical development!
Tips to encourage your child to exercise more
Motivation is always an issue when it comes to getting a child to get up and go outside and participate in an extracurricular activity. This lack of motivation also extends to us adults, sometimes we all just want to sit in and watch a movie rather than getting hot and sweaty! This can be even more difficult in Cambodia due to heat, rain and lack of green space. So we’d thought we collate some tips that we think may be effective in getting your child outside and being active.
Choosing the right activity - This may seem more complex than it sounds. An activity that your child enjoys is one that they are more likely to adhere to in the long run. For a pre-schooler an organised team sport is probably not your best bet. They lack the attention span, skills, and coordination needed to play. So joining a club that allows for them to develop their fundamental skills of a sport or allows for them to develop their overall gross motor skills would be best. For a school age child, ask them what they like, get them to try new activities and see which they respond to the most, ask parents of your child’s friends what their child is doing and get them to go together. Going with a friend is more likely to increase your child chances of wanting to go again. If your child starts going to a club from an early age they are more likely to stay committed to it. For teens, their schedule becomes more busy with school work, relationships and other commitments. So by providing transportation, clothes, equipment and anything else that makes it easier for your child to continue exercising is the best way to keep them exercising.
What type of child you have - This is something worth considering as well. Children are all different and all have their own unique personality. Some will enjoy a competitive sport and pushing themselves, others will enjoy a sport that encourages discipline whilst others will enjoy sports that they can take at their own pace. Each child is unique, take these personality factors into account when you are looking for a sport that you may want your child to partake in.
Be a role model - All parents are role models for their children. This includes exercise, if you lack motivation and encouragement for your child’s exercise then they too will lack motivation. Perhaps consider joining an age-appropriate class alongside your child so you too can learn and stay fit at the same time.
Where does 1CASA fit in?
We at 1CASA are committed to being the biggest provider of sports and sport programmes in Phnom Penh. We know we can’t do everything so we have many partners that support us in reaching our goals. Currently, we run 3 programmes. A baby PE programme on a Friday at Rose Condos so as to get your child active and developing their gross motor skills. A football programme on a tuesday evening in TTP for 3 - 5 year olds to develop their fundamental football skills. We also run on a saturday another football programme at Aeon 2 and TTP. From 8 - 11 (TTP) and 9:30 - 12:30 (Aeon 2) these two programmes are for various ages. Finally, we also have our private swimming lessons available wherein your child can get coaching on how to swim or improve their swimming skills. We also have partnerships with taekwondo coaches, golf, climbing, kayaking, archery and much more. If any of these programmes or partnerships interest you or your child, please don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about what’s available and how you can get your child involved.