Why Do We Want More Kids to Get Moving?
Being physically active is linked to a myriad of behavioral, psychological, and health benefits. For example, people who are regularly physically active are more likely to have higher self-esteem, and better self image, social skills, and cognitive functioning (Taylor et al., 1985). Physical activity has even shown to alleviate some symptoms associated with mild to moderate depression (Taylor et al., 1985). Not only does physical activity help you feel better about yourself, but it also positively affects your physical health. For instance, physical activity has consistently been shown to serve as a protective factor of several of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death (Warburton et al., 2006).
Physical activity is particularly beneficial to children and adolescents. Children and adolescents who are more physically active perform better in school, have higher cognitive functions, and are found to be in better mood states (Singh et al., 2012; Fedewa et al., 2011). Being physically active also helps children and adolescents build healthy and active bodies. It is well established that being physically active in early childhood prevents obesity, both immediately and later as an adult (Campbell & Hesketh, 2007).
Although being active is associated with such positive and impactful benefits, a significant number of children do not receive the recommended amount of physical activity. Only 42% of children ages 6 to 11 get 60 minutes a day of physical activity and only about 8% of adolescents ages 12 to 15 reach this goal (Weight Control Information Network). There are numerous contributing factors that may attribute to this high percentage. Some common barriers to physical activity in children and adolescents include: preference for indoor pastimes, low energy levels, time constraints, unsafe neighborhoods, a lack of motivation, not feeling competent or skilled, a lack of resources, and insufficient social support from parents and peers (Biddiss & Irwin, 2010).
What Does Our Team Do?
In the Healthy Families Lab at DePaul University we are looking for new and innovative ways to improve physical health in children and adolescents. We are hoping to increase children’s’ time spent being physically active and reduce the time spent being sedentary. Today, children spend about 3 hours per day watching television and another 1 to 2 hours per day playing video games (Rideout et al. 2010; Sisson et al. 2009; Swing et. al. 2010). It is likely that these children are being heavily inactive during this time.
As a research lab, we are trying to be creative in reducing barriers to physical activity while making it fun and enjoyable. Currently, children are playing more inactive video games vs. active video games such as Dance Dance Revolution (Mellecker, Lanningham-Forster, Levin, & McManus, 2012). One of our studies, The Active Project, seeks to understand why some children are more likely to play active video games than others. Using platforms like video games and exercise videos on Youtube can be a great start to help children become more comfortable with physical activity by reducing common barriers such as teasing and by providing a safe environment. Additionally, by involving the family in active video game play you are creating family support and building healthy relationships.
Written by Trey Dellucci and Sophie Mir