The start of the school year is a challenging time for parents and children – the holidays are over and work/school routines are about to kick back in. With ‘back to school’ ads bombarding us at every turn it can be hard to know what’s really relevant when it comes to getting our kids school ready.
Obesity rates amongst Australian children and adolescents have increased dramatically in the past few decades. Yet physically active children are better equipped for school, being more social, less susceptible to depression and anxiety and displaying better memory and thinking skills.
So the start of the school year is the perfect time to start fresh routines, prioritising daily physical activity.
As well as impacting academic outcomes, exercise has also been shown to effect the size of children’s brains.
A European study found that children who are physically fit have a greater volume of grey matter in the brain, which is important for executive function (the mental skills that help us get things done), learning, motor skills and visual processing1.
Australia’s report card on children’s physical activity in the biannual report card compiled by Active Healthy Kids Australia has been given a D−, effectively a fail. It shows that four out of five primary school-aged children don’t meet the minimum requirements of an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day; even fewer are doing strength or weight-based activities2.
Chair of the APA Paediatric group, Nicole Haynes, says parents have a vital role in encouraging their children to create and maintain new exercise habits into their daily lives − such as regularly walking to and from school.
“Nine out of 10 young Australians are sitting far too much, and with a new school year about to start, an easy way for children to increase their exercise is to walk or ride to school.”
“Sedentary habits aren’t likely to be broken unless there are easy, attractive ways for kids and teens to be regularly active. One easy thing parents can do is ensure that their kids’ school bags and shoes fit properly, so that their travel to and from school – whether that be walking, cycling or riding a scooter - is comfortable enough to encourage kids to be active.
The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) has endorsed Ascent shoes and Spartan backpacks for their ergonomic fit, comfort and function, making parent’s choices easier.
Nicole also urges parents not to be concerned about children carrying a backpack of moderate weight, as weight-bearing activities like this can in fact prevent back pain in adolescence.
“Parents are key role models in encouraging their children to be physically active, so they should get moving regularly too, for their own and their child’s health. If you are concerned about your child’s ability to handle the physical requirements of school – which may include gross motor, fine motor and static control tasks such as sitting at a desk – then getting a consultation with a physiotherapist with experience in paediatrics is warranted.”
Nicole Haynes is available for further comment or interview.
To find a physio in your area, head over the the choose.physio website.
1 Esteban-Cornejo, I. et al. (2017). A whole brain volumetric approach in overweight/obese children: Examining the association with different physical fitness components and academic performance. The ActiveBrains project, NeuroImage. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.08.011
2 Active Healthy Kids Australia (2018). Muscular Fitness: It’s Time for a Jump Start. The 2018 Active Healthy Kids Australia Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People. Adelaide, South Australia: Active Healthy Kids Australia. http://dx.doi.org/10.25954/5b862301479a1
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