We all need to get our exercise

  • Feb. 25, 2011 8:00 p.m.
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Last week, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released a report suggesting that limits on sedentary behavior (sitting down while participating in various forms of screen time) need to be set to no more than two hours a day for youth between the ages of five and 17.The following news coverage suggested that this is the first time such limits have been proposed; there is some truth to that statement.The history of fitness education has always focused on the concept of setting goals for exercising, not reducing time spent sitting on our butts. Right now, the current guidelines hold that the average adult should be getting two and a half hours of moderate exercise a week and the average youth should be getting an hour a day.  As research into the effectiveness of this education strategy has taken place, and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 per cent of adults and seven per cent of students have met these exercise goals despite a three-decade campaign by Participaction Canada, the disconnect has become apparent.Indeed, for the past two decades young people have been spending more time sitting in front of various screens, obesity rates have gone through the roof and adult diseases such as coronary issues and diabetes have risen dramatically in youth.  But there is a hidden factor in the research that is not mentioned enough and which represents an enormous influence on the health of youth.In the past 30 years, there has been virtually no progress against child poverty in Canada. In fact, depending on whose statistics you read, by many measures, the gap between the rich and the poor and the lack of quality jobs for younger families has, in fact, made the situation worse. In families with little disposable income, the tendency to use televisions or video games as babysitters, in combination with the inability to purchase healthier, but more expensive food, has created a large segment of the population where the connection between poor health and low incomes is readily apparent. Add to this an ever-dwindling proportion of time given to physical activity by the education system, an ever-increasing cost of participation in community sports and safety concerns in poor neighbourhoods that keep kids inside virtually all of the time and you have the perfect storm for a lack of healthy lifestyle choices for already challenged families. I’m not suggesting that the poor are the only ones which factor into the equation, as I believe sedentary pastimes are the norm in any socioeconomic or age group these days.  What I am suggesting is that solving the problem will take a different approach than simply encouraging parents to get their kids off the couch and outside. That approach has been going on for 30 years without positive results across all socioeconomic groups. I am returning to one of the most basic premises of my educational philosophy.  Every child not only needs a good education, but needs a balanced one. At school, on a daily basis, every child up to the age of 16 should have at least 45 minutes to an hour of exercise and 45 minutes to an hour of creative arts work in addition to the standard three to four hours of academic work.  Whether that involvement takes place in class time or as an extracurricular activity, it is the responsibility of all of us to provide equal opportunity within the educational system for all youth to benefit from a well-rounded approach to intellectual, physical and creative education.  After all, it is all of us who will share the medical costs when the decline of health in our youth leads to substantial strain on a medical system that is already stretched to its limit and heading for even more challenges with the baby boom aging.     Graham Hookey is an educator and writer. Email him at <a href=”mailto:ghookey@yahoo.com”>ghookey@yahoo.com</a>.