The problem is most pronounced among preschoolers who spend a significant amount of their days in childcare. These kids are generally not getting enough exercise, according to a new study. It found that only three in 10 children in full-day child care programs got at least 60 minutes of outdoor recess.
“We know daily physical activity is essential for children’s growth and development. It improves cardiovascular and bone health and has been linked to improved mood, attention, and cognitive performance,” researcher Dr. Kristen Copeland said in a statement. “Yet, few preschoolers are meeting daily physical activity recommendations of 60 minutes or more per day.”
One third of the children had no time outdoors.
Over half of U.S. children attend daycare, and many live in areas that offer few, if any, safe environments for outdoor play when they are at home. The result is a public health problem with long-term implications.
The benefits of exercise cannot be overstated. This is true of every age group from preschoolers to senior citizens. From cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal health, to mental health and thinking and learning skills, regular physical exercise — especially the kind that makes you sweat — has repeatedly been shown to make a big difference in both long- and short-term health.
In addition to its immediate health benefits, exercise in early life helps children develop good habits for continued fitness. Supporting healthy, active lifestyles in the early years is the best defense against the obesity plaguing so many older adults and children.
Finally, they looked at how much time preschools set aside each day for outdoor or large muscle play, and they compared these schedules to the actual amount of time kids spent in these activities. And it is here that some of the biggest problems showed up.
There were big discrepancies between the amount of outdoor time preschools scheduled and the amount of time children actually spent being active.
On paper, most of the preschools offered a reasonable amount of outdoor time, but there were big discrepancies between the amount of outdoor time preschools scheduled and the amount of time children actually spent being active.
About 90% of the centers studied reported that they scheduled two or more outdoor sessions daily. The data, however, showed that only 40% of the children actually had two or more outdoor sessions. And one-third of the children spent no time outdoors. Similarly, 83% of the centers reported scheduling an hour or more of outdoor time, but only 28% of the observed children experienced this much. The researchers concluded that outdoor time occurred less often than it was scheduled in the majority of settings.
The team concluded that childcare centers can influence and increase children's physical activity by sticking to a schedule that includes at least 60 minutes of outdoor time daily. This strategy is no problem for many centers.
Parents may want to investigate the outdoor play time policies of their children's daycare centers. Some guidelines suggest that centers have at least an hour per day of structured physical activity that is led by a teacher and an hour of free play physical activity time. They may wish to ask about the scheduled and supervised outdoor times, how much the children actually participate, and the center's policies and alternatives when bad weather prevents outdoor play.
Parents are role models when it comes to exercise. Look for outdoor play opportunities when your children are not in daycare to increase the opportunities for moderate to vigorous physical activities. The whole family will benefit from increasing physical activity.
The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.