By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Two recent studies have highlighted the importance of exercise during childhood.
The first, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at how body fat and cardiovascular fitness in children were affected by the intensity of exercise and the amount of exercise taken. Almost 800 children aged between nine and 10 years were included in the study.
The researchers discovered that children who did more than 40 minutes of vigorous activity a day had less body fat and better cardiovascular fitness than those who did less than 18 minutes a day and exercised gently or moderately.
The researchers conclude that physical activity that’s vigorous and maintained for a longer time may be more likely to prevent obesity and improve cardiovascular fitness in children than lower intensity activities carried out for a shorter period of time.
Renowned medical journal "The Lancet" has also published a study suggesting that children should do at least 90 minutes of physical activity a day, rather than the recommended one hour.
More than 1,700 nine and 15-year-old children took part in the study, which monitored their physical activity levels and a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and body fat.
The researchers found that greater levels of activity lowered the risk factors for heart disease. Nine-year-olds who did almost two hours of moderate to vigorous activity, and 15-year-olds who did almost 90 minutes a day had the lowest risk.
These two studies highlight just how important it is to get children into the exercise habit at a young age, not just to help them maintain a suitable body weight, but also to help lower their risk of health problems in later life such as heart disease.
The Lancet study is so important that the Department of Health has promised to consider the implications carefully. A spokesperson said, “This is an interesting and well-executed study. It is important that we keep our recommendations under review as evidence like this comes to light.”
When it comes to encouraging children to get active, it’s important for adults to set a good example. If parents lead inactive lifestyles, it’s likely that children will follow the same pattern. So make it your mission to get the whole family involved in activities you can all enjoy together. As well as passing on the fitness bug to all of your family, it will also you help you lose weight and give you a fitter, firmer body. Here are some ideas for getting fit as a family…
Go for a Dip
Take the whole family swimming and make the most of your time by doing at least 15 minutes of proper swimming (you’ll burn 175 calories).
To make it more fun, encourage older children to swim along with you and set mini challenges, such as who can swim the fastest length. If you have younger children take it in turns with your partner (or hook up with another mum or dad with kids of a similar age) to do lengths whilst the other monitors the children.
Walk this Way
Walking not only burns more than 150 calories in 30 minutes but it can be a great way of spending quality time with your partner and kids whilst keeping fit and getting plenty of fresh air.
Keep the pace brisk by putting babies and toddlers in prams and encourage older children to ride alongside on bikes. Of course, with little ones in a pram and older ones on their bikes there’s nothing to stop you picking up the pace even more by breaking into a run and burning up to 400 more calories per hour!
Get on your Bike
Cycling burns more 650 calories an hour and is another fun, family activity.
Many people with young children rule it out but if you invest in a child seat for the back of your bike and a well-fitting safety helmet for both you and your child there’s no reason why you can’t take children along with you. Slightly older children can ride tandem with the addition of an add-on bike that can be fitted to the back of your cycle too.
Play Yourself Fit
It’s surprising how many calories you can burn simply by playing games with your children in the park or garden such as swing ball, football, bat and ball, and so on.
For example, 30 minutes of football burns 200 calories, 30 minutes of ball games burns 168 calories and 15 minutes of chasing games burns 185 calories. Your kids will love you for it, too!
Go for the Bounce
Get the whole family active by investing in a trampoline for the garden. Bouncing up and down for 20 minutes will burn more than 160 calories and will help to tone legs and thighs.
Parents can use the diaries, databases and weight loss tools in WLR to check calorie intake and see how balanced their diet is, try it free for 24 hours.
H.E.A.R.T. - The Cholesterol Charity
HEART UK supports all those at risk of inherited high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. www.heartuk.org.uk