Youngsters need to exercise for an hour a day, says Marjory Burns
British Heart Foundation Scotland recently asked children and young people what they think about their school PE lessons. Nearly half of these eight to 16-year-olds told us they want to do more PE.
Surprised? You could be forgiven, as not a week goes by when we don’t read or hear about the ticking time bomb that is child obesity and the need to get our kids more active.
Perhaps less surprising was their desire to play more American-style sports, such as dodgeball, volleyball, baseball and American football. We worry about new technologies cutting into our children’s school and leisure time, but perhaps this is the same media that depicts these sporting alternatives as exciting and desirable.
Our same survey showed us that nearly a fifth of kids found their PE lessons boring and 8 per cent went as far as to say they thought it was the “most pointless lesson” they did at school. Two-thirds of kids also said they prefer to spend their spare time playing computer games or on a tablet or console.
Crucial for looking after heart health
Nearly a third of children in Scotland are overweight or obese, so it’s heartening to see the huge appetite for more time spent exercising at school and more varied pursuits being added to the curriculum. But there’s still much more we need to do with young people to excite and engage them. Getting active is a crucial way of looking after your heart health, so it’s vital we make it fun and enjoyable for children from an early age.
Physical activity has a number of known benefits for children and young people – helping to prevent them from becoming overweight or obese and developing type-2 diabetes, as well as improving bone strength. However, many children are not meeting recommended daily physical activity levels, and this is affecting their current and future health. All children and young people should be doing moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes every day.
In 2011, 66 per cent of children in Scotland (69 per cent of boys and 62 per cent of girls) met these recommendations, of at least 60 minutes a day. Still, around a third of children are not getting the exercise they need to live a heart healthy life.
We know, from the Scottish Health Survey, and our own poll, that kids are more likely to exercise when the adults in their lives encourage them and are physically active themselves.
What does all of this tell us? We need to make getting and staying active fun and enjoyable – and as adults we need to lead by example.
Schoolchildren should be encouraged to participate in extracurricular physical activities, to be physically active at break-times and to walk and cycle to school.
BHF Scotland can help. We have projects that will bring ideas and free resources into your schools and groups.
Jump Rope For Heart is a fun skipping activity that has been running in schools for over 25 years. Feeding the desire for new American-style activities, we introduced Ultimate Dodgeball a few years ago. Both activities raise funds for us – so that we can continue our vital work – and for your school. This money can be spent on new sporting resources, for example.
We are also expanding our Hearty Lives programme. We’ll spend £400,000 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde to address cardiovascular risk factors in 11 to 18-year olds. BHF Scotland will work with NHS Scotland, local authorities and non-profit organisations to provide education, training, peer mentoring and one-to-one weight management.
I think our young people also need inspiring role models. A third of the kids we polled said they wanted to play tennis (think Andy Murray). Hopefully, Glasgow 2014 will create a lasting appetite among kids to participate in – and demand – more games and sport.
• Marjory Burns is Director of British Heart Foundation Scotland