We hear all the time that sitting is bad for our health—sedentary lifestyles have been linked with type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and even premature death. But a new study shows it’s not just adults who should be worried about living the couch potato life: researchers found that prolonged sitting is harmful for children’s health, too.
The study, published in the journalExperimental Physiology, looked at healthy young girls ages seven to 10, and found that after just a single three-hour period of inactivity, the girls developed changes in their blood flow and arteries—which would be cardiovascular red flags for adults.
Meanwhile, a group of girls who did moderate exercise for 10 minutes each hour during the three hour period prevented the detrimental impact to the arteries and blood flow.
“‘Inactive children later become inactive adults. Inactivity is the fourth major risk factor for global mortality, contributing to 3.2 million deaths annually. Every parent should be asking ‘is the amount of time my child spends sitting harmful?’” said study author Ali McManus, PhD, associate professor at the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study in a press release.
And all parents should be concerned—not just those who have overweight children. “Obesity is at an all time high in the United States; it is very important for children to get up and move around for their overall health, not just their weight,” says Minu George, M.D. an interim chief of general pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and an assistant professor at the Hofstra North Shore–LIJ School of Medicine in New York, who is not affiliated with the study.
Dr. George’s advice: “Children should not be spending more than two hours in front of any screen—TV, Ipod, Ipad, smart phone, Xbox, PlaysStation. On top of that, children under age two should not spend any time in front of a screen, if at all possible.”
Instead, Dr. George suggests turning family time intoactivefamily time. “Walking, playing in the back yard, visiting local parks, apple-picking, and checking out the fall foliage are all excellent activities this time of the year,” says Dr. George. “Activities with our kids promote family bonding, are educational, stimulate the brain, as well as give everyone excellent exercise!”
All Youcolumnist Kristen Wynns, PhD suggests kids can “buy” screen time by doing certain amounts of exercise. In addition, she says, “Parents can encourage daily family walks after dinner, or have kids get up during commercials to do jumping jacks or stretches.”
Study time also shouldn’t be just for sitting. Wynns suggests encouraging kids to get up every 45 minutes for a quick walk or movement when studying, or even just change positions or move to a different location around the house.
As for the classroom, “We recommend teachers allow kids stretch breaks, to stand at their tables, or to have breaks every hour or so to get up and move around,” notes Wynns.
Talk to your child’s teacher if you think your son or daughter isn’t moving enough during the day. Also, do your best to make sure your kids get lots of active-time at home, too.