Getting Children to Get Physical

A 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) report on Childhood Obesity highlighted that globally, a staggering 170 million young people under the age of 18 are overweight or obese. In addition, a recent study reported that less than 50% of primary school-aged boys, and less than a third of primary school-aged girls, are meeting basic minimum requirements in terms of activity levels on a weekly basis.

Why do children need to exercise?

Children need to exercise for the same reasons that we are all encouraged to be as active as possible – it is good for us! Moving your muscles and getting your heart pumping has enormous benefits in terms of improving heart and vascular health, increasing concentration levels, and keeping weight in check. Moreover, developing healthy habits in younger life increases the likelihood of these habits being carried through to adult life as well – in short, healthy children make healthier adults, while unhealthy, overweight children are far more likely to remain overweight as adults, with a high risk of numerous serious diseases including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis.

How can we help children to exercise?

Some kids these days seem to prefer sitting and playing videogames and surfing the internet to throwing a ball and running around a park. However, videogames and exercise don’t have to be mutually exclusive, as a recent study shows.

Led by Dr Louise Naylor at the University of Western Australia, along with researchers from Liverpool John Moores University and Swansea University in the UK, a small study published in Journal of Pediatrics examined whether ‘exergaming’ could be as effective as traditional exercise for children aged 9-11. Children were asked to perform 15 minutes of high intensity exergaming (15 minutes of ‘virtual hurdling’ on an Xbox-Kinect), and 15 minutes of low impact exergaming (15 minutes of Kinect Ten Pin Bowling). These activities were compared to 15 minutes of ‘traditional’ higher and lower impact exercises, i.e. jogging or walking on a treadmill.

It was found that Kinect hurdling expended as much energy as the equivalent moderate intensity treadmill-jogging, while low intensity exergaming (Ten Pin Bowling), was equivalent to traditional, low impact walking on a treadmill.

Although only a very small study of just 15 children, the results are promising in that they show how even videogames can be used to increase activity to a level that can positively impact on health. High intensity exergaming in particular had a positive effect on flow-mediated dilation (FMD); a measure of vascular health and function in children; as well as increasing heart rate which can improve circulation and heart health, and burning calories which can assist with weight loss.

What’s more, Dr Naylor reports that the children used in the study enjoyed exergaming much more than the treadmill exercises – something that could make this a sustainable form of exercise for life-long benefits.

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Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin is a qualified biology teacher and experienced freelance science writer from Warwickshire in the UK. She is fascinated by how the human body works and is particularly interested in writing about new research and discoveries in science and medicine.

Follow Lisa on Twitter: lisaamartin1

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