Announcements to stay at home during various stages of the COVID-19 pandemic sent mixed messagesto parents across North America and the world. In the beginning stages, families took the messageliterally and locked themselves indoors.What did this do tothe overall health of our children?
Pre-COVID, only 17% of Canadian school-aged children were meeting the Canadian 24-hour movementguidelines (discussed below). (1) This dropped after the orders came in to restrict outdoor activities, andin April of 2020, one year later,less than 3% of Canadian children were meeting the guidelines.Furthermore, 42% of children were getting less active outdoor play. (2)
Below we will explore the 24 hourmovementguidelinesdeveloped by the Healthy Active Living andObesity Group (HALO) of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, theCanadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), ParticipACTION, The Conference Board of Canada, thePublic Health Agency of Canada and a group of leading researchers from around the world, with theinput of over 700 national and international stakeholders.
24 Hour Guidelines
“For optimal health benefits, children, and youth (aged 5–17 years) should achieve high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour, and sufficient sleep each day.”
What does a healthy 24 hours look like? Here are the four recommended activities:
Participate in an accumulated 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activities.At least three days per week include vigorous physical activity along with muscle and bonestrengthening activities.This might include rope or tree climbing, skipping, jumping rope, or playing ateam sport outdoors.
This includes light physical activity, either structured or unstructured.Less time on the couchand more time moving around.While doing these activities you should be able to carry on aconversation without labored breath.
Children aged 5-13 require 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Teens aged 14–17require 8-10 hours of sleep. It is also beneficial to have consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.Gettingenough sleep is not enough if other guidelines are not also met.4. Sit. Reduce sedentary activity by limiting screen time to 2 hours per day. Limit sitting for long periodsof time.You may want to set an alarm if you are sitting at a computer working on ahomeworkassignment so you can stand up and stretch or walk around the house once per hour.
“Preserving sufficient sleep, trading indoor time for outdoor time, and replacing sedentary behavioursand light physical activity with additional moderate to vigorous physical activity can provide greaterhealth benefits.”
Health Benefits for Outside Play
Outdoor play for children supports an array of physical, emotional, social,spiritual, and environmentalhealth benefits.Outdoor play can happen in a variety ofplaces beyond your backyard.Get creative inthe ways you address the suggested 24-hour guidelines.Children and youth who meet movementrecommendations have better cardio metabolic, musculoskeletal, cognitive, and mental health, andimmune function compared with their less active peers.
🌟 Cognitive health
Playing in nature stimulates creativity and problem solving skills. Childrenwho play outside have shown increased concentration and cognitive skills.(4)
🌟 Mental health
Being in natural environments gives children more resiliency andability tomanagestress.Just being out in nature can greatly reduce stress levels.
🌟 Immune function
When playing outside, children are not breathing recirculated air that mayhave germs and infectious diseases–especially in winter.(6)A new study conducted in Finlandfound that making outdoor play areas greener andmore biodiverse could improveyoungchildren’s immune systems inas little asone month.(5)
🌟 Develop social skills
Allowing children to playfreely, andwith minimum structure, teachesthem to get along with their peers, build relationships in the community, and appreciate theenvironment. This can also lead to increased creativity in general.
🌟 Better vision
A study reported by Optometry and Vision Sciencestated that children whospend time outside have better distance vision.This is good news in a world where we spendmany hours looking at small, medium, and large screens at close ranges.
🌟 Reduced ADHDSymptoms
Studies have shown that children exposed to natural settings maybe effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms.It allows an outlet for the activity andenergy that often creates issues while indoors.
🌟 Intellectual Development
Outdoor play can aid with brain development. While playing outsidechildren are inventing games, exploring, and experiencing independence. There are alsoopportunities to cultivate friendships and improve communication skills. Children can learnanywhere, especially if they are exposed to educational toys and materials. This shows thatlearning takes place anywhere. Encouraging outdoor play in children also creates a healthy attitude about maintaining an active adult lifestyle.
Let’s not forget our four legged friends.Having a family dog is also positively associated with moreactive lifestyles.Meeting your dog’s basic needs to go outside benefits you and them.(7)
Even with evidence showing the benefits of increased physical activity, reducedsedentary behaviours,and getting enough sleep, Canadian children and youth meeting the 24 hour recommendations isreported at only 12.7%.(8)
While indoor physical activity, such as sports, is stillcontributing to overalllevels, it is clear that there are added benefits to playing outside and in nature. (9) Spending time outside and in nature provides a critical setting for healthy movement behaviours, permitting children and youth to accumulate more daily physical activity, less sedentary behaviour, and sleep better. (9)
Now let’s plan our perfect day!
(8) Rhodes RE, Spence JC, Berry T, et al. Parental support of the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines for children and youth: prevalence and correlates.BMC Public Health.2019;19(1):1385. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7744-7
(9) Tremblay MS, Gray C, Babcock S, et al. Position statement on active outdoor play.Int J Environ Res Public Health.2015;12(6):6475–6505. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120606475