Canadian youngsters are spending too much time in front of screens and not enough time participating in "heart-pumping physical activity," and the lack of exercise is damaging the health of their brains, according to a new report.
The latest findings of the ParticipACTION report, released Tuesday, gave Canadian kids a D+ grade for their overall level of physical activity, marking a slight improvement from the past four reports where they have received a D-minus grade.
Researchers found that only 35 per cent of children from the ages of 5 to 17, and 62 per cent of kids from the ages of 3 to 4, are getting the recommended physical activity levels for their age groups. Both groups are also getting more screen time than is recommended.
In addition to the negative effects this is having on cardiovascular health, muscle strength, sleep and weight, the report’s authors found that this lack of physical activity is having consequences in the classroom.
They found that children who get the recommended amount of physical activity are more creative, better able to solve problems and less likely to make mistakes or suffer from mental health problems like depression and anxiety than their peers that do not. They also have better memories, longer attention spans and better self-esteem.
"From increased cognitive skills to improved mental health, physical activity has profound impacts on kids’ brain health," said Mark Tremblay, the chief scientific officer of ParticipACTION and the director of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute’s Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group. "So, for their brains’ sake, it’s time to get kids sitting less and moving more."
The benefits were seen in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorders, too.
"Children and youth who are least active or who have brain-based disabilities may have the most to gain," Tremblay said.
The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines recommend that children from the ages of 5 to 17 spend at least 60 minutes day participating in physical activity. For kids from 3 to 4 years old, that number is at least 180 minutes.
But the report notes that "some physical activity is better than none."
"Regular physical activity, even in short bursts, can help kids’ brains on many levels," said Tremblay.
The ParticipACTION survey grades children across 14 different indicators including organized sport participation, sleep and physical fitness.
Canadian children received their lowest grade, an F, for "24-Hour Movement Behaviours," which measures to what extent kids meet the recommendations within the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines."
They received two B+ grades -- their highest -- for sleep and in the "Community and Environment Category," which looks at whether or not formal strategies for physical activity are in place in different communities and to what extent they are accessible.
The report’s recommendations include providing additional funding or subsidies for low-income families to access physical activities, avoiding the removal of outdoor play as punishment for schoolchildren and participating in physical activity as a family.
"We need to be active role models and set kids up to succeed," said Elio Antunes, the president and CEO of ParticipACTION. "I understand that modern life can get in the way of making the time to get active, but I encourage all families to try. And, get outdoors more because it is a powerful antidote for kids facing stress."