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Tonight's homework: Play outside

An increasing number of Canadian children are leading sedentary lives, warns a new report.

According to the 2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian children need to do their homework when it comes to after-school activities.

During the three hour time period between school dismissal and the supper hour, children are averaging just 14 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity, say researchers.

“The after‐school period represents an underutilized opportunity for children and youth to gain emotional and physical health benefits through physical activity,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer with Active Healthy Kids Canada. “Time spent being active outdoors after school lowers levels of anxiety, anger, fatigue, and sadness. The science and benefits are clear; we need to re‐establish the healthy practice of after‐school physical activity in our communities.”

The report also concludes that children who play outside after school take an additional 2,000 steps – or the equivalent of walking an extra two kilometres a day – compared to their couch potato counterparts.

Moreover, only 9% of boys and 4% of girls are meeting the new Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, say researchers.

“Right now, kids are spending over 40 hours a week in front of screens,” says Dr. Tremblay. “These alarming numbers equate to a very sedentary child, so we must transform the after‐school hours into healthy, active living time.”

Some of the report’s more alarming findings:

  • Twenty-four per cent of Canadian parents say their children use only active models of transportation, such as walking or riding a bike, to and from school.
  • Total daily sedentary time for Canadian children and youth averages 8.6 hours, or 62% of their waking hours.
  • Despite an increasingly robust body of evidence that physical inactivity is a major public health issue in Canada, significant new investment from the federal government has not been seen.

Looking for additional ways to get your child physically active after school?

The Public Health Agency of Canada suggests the following:

  • Encourage him to walk or ride his bike to school.
  • Replace computer or TV time with something active like going to the park or walking the dog.
  • Ask him to rake the leaves, shovel the snow, or help you bring in the groceries.
  • Learn which sports he enjoys playing and find clubs or organizations within your community that offers them.

 For more information: Keeping kids on the move

Joel Tiller


2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth