You’ve probably heard that spending too much time sitting is bad for your health, even if you’re active on a regular basis. Now, new research says the same is true for kids, giving you another great reason to help your child stay active.
Children who stand up or move around during bouts of sedentary time tend to be healthier than those who sit still for longer periods, finds a new study published in the journal PLoS One. Using accelerometers, researchers tracked the activity levels of more than 500 children over seven days, and found that those who took short breaks during sedentary activities like watching TV or using the computer had lower body mass indexes and cardiometabolic risks compared to kids who didn’t take breaks.
Even for children who run around or play outside on a regular basis, sitting still for long stretches can be unhealthy. “When we sit for long periods of time, the amount of sugar and fat in the blood becomes elevated, causing the body to pump out more insulin,” says study co-author Travis Saunders, Ph.D. And over time, that increase in insulin could lead to too-high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as obesity and diabetes. Hours specifically spent vegging out in front of the TV or computer could be even more harmful, since screen time is associated with increased food intake in kids.
There are other reasons to discourage your child from being too sedentary. Spending lots of time sitting as a little one could set the precedent for unhealthy habits down the road. “We know that the people who are the most sedentary during childhood tend to be the most sedentary as adults, which can create the risk for health problems later in life,” Saunders says.
What are the most effective ways to keep your preschooler moving? Here’s four simple tools to help your child stay active—and protect his health now and in the future.
Limit screen time.
Limit television and computer use to no more than two hours a day for preschoolers, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics. And definitely, definitely keep those screens out of your child’s bedroom. “We know children who have televisions in their room watch more and sleep less,” says Saunders.
Designate outdoor playtime.
Pick a time every day that’s specially reserved for running around outside—and stick to it. Blustery fall days are perfect for building a kite!
Encourage other forms of play.
Board games, coloring, or even imaginative activities like playing house or kitchen all work. “Even if kids are doing something that’s sitting down, there are very few things that are as sedentary as sitting in front of the TV or computer,” Saunders says. Find more fun cold weather activities here.
Promote frequent breaks.
Experts aren’t sure exactly how often kids should break from sitting to stay healthy, but more often is always better than less, says Saunders. If you notice your little one’s been sitting still for a long time, ask her to help you with a chore, call her over to show her something interesting (like a funny picture or an animal you spot outside), or even run over and give her a quick tickle. It all adds up!
By Marygrace Taylor