In decades past, before the Internet, PlayStations, Netflix and other distractions began streaming their abundance of effortless entertainment into our homes, kids would go out on their bikes during the holidays. Now, I don’t want to lapse into middle-aged moaner mode, going on about ‘the youth of today’ or reminiscing about ‘in my day’, but things have changed. I also know that this observation is made super-frequently, so apologies if I sound like a worn-out CD (remember them?).
The fact remains, however, that children’s activity levels drop off significantly during the holidays. Studies show that a decrease in activity is common throughout the UK, but in less affluent areas of the country, the difference is quite considerable. The result of this lack of exercise, particularly during the long summer break, is a major contributor to poor physical health, obesity, and mental health issues in young people.
Can you afford poor health?
Clearly the affordability factor, highlighted by the study, is a reflection of the cost of activity-based or outdoor-style options that are available to children during school holidays. Do they go on family trips where they might be taken on walks, on days-out or spend their time wandering around a theme park? Can they go to summer camps, get involved in local activity groups or go out with their friends for country bike rides? Or are they simply left with the TV and internet for company, expected to fill their hours with artificial pictures and sounds while they slowly cultivate a reluctance to get up and do anything physical at all..?
Whatever the reasons (and not being able to afford a solution is a very real issue), we all know that habit and opportunity are strong allies in determining behavioural patterns. As with any issue in life, the first step to finding a solution is always recognising, and in some cases acknowledging, that there is a problem.
If children lack opportunities to get involved in physical activity during those school-free weeks (where PE, break times and walking from class to class had been compulsory), what can be done to help?
Get real and get active!
The real problem is that the cycle gets broken. When a child’s routine involves regular exercise (such as the daily activities of being at school) they are more likely to want to get involved in more. When that routine is removed and they have the opportunity for a lie-in or hours whiled away in front of some form of screen, they quickly create exercise-averse habits. The key is to keep up the momentum.
If parents are willing to invest a little bit in holiday courses, activity camps, day trips or any other type of event that involves moving around, the benefits will be self-generating. Anybody (or anybody) that is regularly active will crave the endorphins and oxygenating highs that are generated from doing that exercise. Children who are involved in physical activity are many times more likely to want to do more.
This is not just an activity message. It is critical to a child’s health, well-being, longevity and fullness of life from this day and for the rest of their lives.
It is up to us (and our old-school, reminiscing minds) to help inspire them to live better lives.