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Physios urged to encouraged children to get active during the holidays

Photo: Health Times Magazine
Physiotherapists are being urged to encourage parents – and increasingly grandparents who are often used as informal carers - to ensure children maintain or increase physical activity during the summer holidays, which often dramatically reduces during school breaks.

While the structure of school and organised physical activity helps create and maintain healthy routines, school holidays often see these habits fall to the wayside.

“School days provide children with a consistent routine, both in terms of physical activity and structured eating times that limit the opportunity for unhealthy habits to for,” says Australian Physiotherapy Australia paediatric chair, Nicole Haynes.

“On school holidays there are a few contributors to the reduction in ‘huff and puff’ activity,” says Ms Haynes.
“This includes the reduction and often cessation of organised sports programs over the holidays, no PE classes, no lunch time tiggy or soccer, no interschool sports programs and no active transport. 

“All of these contribute to a child’s daily activity level.

“The availability in the home of sedentary, electronic entertainment, whether it be television, devices or computer games, often leads to more sedentary time, over physically active pursuits.”

And with an increasing number of families relying on grandparents, the opportunity for children to be active decreases even further.

“Whilst engaging grandparents for care has so many benefits for both the children and the grandparents, we have seen in studies that often the type of activities they do together are less active,” says Ms Haynes.

“Sometimes parents and grandparents are unsure how to fill the days when they are looking after children and grandchildren, and it can be easy to overlook the amount of time that kids are spending in sedentary activities.”

Ms Haynes says it’s important for physiotherapists to ensure patients are aware that being physically active doesn’t have to mean over complicated or exertive exercises.

“There are so many activities parents and grandparents can do with children that are fun, simple and cost almost nothing.

“I’d suggest things like planting out a herb garden together and then maintaining it with regular watering and weeding, going for a walk to the local shops instead of driving, packing a picnic and walking or riding to
a local park for lunch or dinner or heading to the local pool for a swim.

“These are all simple activities that keep children engaged and moving which many grandparents will find enjoyable and manageable.”

Regular physical activity, whether structured or not, is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression.

“As long as grandparents find something that they and the children find enjoyable, they will naturally be more inclined to keep it up.” 

Some other physio-recommended activities for grandparents (or parents) and children to do together on summer holidays include:
  • Build a cubby – indoors or out
  • Set up an obstacle course
  • Build something together - a bird house, a wooden box
  • Do some chalk drawing or water painting outside on the ground or a fence
  • Play ball games in the back yard
  • Play balloon tennis
  • Go on a nature treasure hunt 
  • Dance
  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood
  • Play some old-fashioned games such as tiggy, hopscotch, skipping, elastics, or hula hooping

There is strong evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of chronic health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes into adult hood, as well as contributing to reducing the risk of obesity. 

Physical activity contributes to stronger muscles and bones, helps develop children’s confidence, offers great opportunities for social experiences, contributes to improved mental health and concentration. 

Some studies have also linked physical activity to academic outcomes in children.

“In my private practice I certainly see many children with developmental delays, musculoskeletal pain and functional limitations where inadequate physical activity is contributing to the presentation. 

“I also see children with pain and injuries early in term 1 after the school holidays, where a sudden increase in load after a period of reduced activity is definitely a contributor.”

Physiotherapists working with children should be assessing physical activity levels and advising children and their families of what the recommendations are and giving simple strategies to assist families in achieving these recommendations, says Ms Haynes.

“Educating the parents of the benefits of physical activity is extremely important.

“Gaining this understanding of the health benefits as well as the potential harm inactivity is doing to their child’s future health can assist in making physical activity a priority in the household. 

“Questioning parents on their role modeling relating to physical activity and working out how they can set good examples for their children and also providing them with strategies to inject activity into their children’s everyday life is within the scope of practice for a physio. 

“Educating the children with regards to the health benefits of exercise can also be extremely powerful, and they can have a positive influence on f

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.