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From USA Today
Preschool kids starved for exercise
Add preschoolers to the list of Americans who don’t get enough exercise.
In a new study out today, Seattle researchers found that preschoolers only get about 48 minutes of exercise a day, although some studies suggest they should get at least two hours.
At that age, exercise is crucial for preventing obesity, as well as for developing motor and social skills, said Pooja Tandon, an assistant professor at the University of Washington and a researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Childhood obesity has increased dramatically in the past generation. The percentage of children ages 6 to 11 who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012, while the percentage of obese adolescents ages 12 to 19 grew from 5% to nearly 21%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The push to build academic skills has trickled down to preschools, squeezing out time for active play, Tandon said, noting that research in older kids shows a strong connection between exercise and learning.
In the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers went into 10 preschools in the Seattle area and tracked kids’ activities across the day for a total of 50 days. Nearly 100 children also wore devices to follow their activity levels.
The children were provided opportunities for active play only about 12% of the time, while 29% of their day was spent napping. Kids spent the rest of their time eating or in sedentary activities. They played outside for a little more than a half hour outside on a typical day, the study found.
“It’s just not enough,” said Tandon, who led the study.
There are many opportunities to make regular features of preschool more active, said Debbie Chang, vice president of Delaware-based Nemours Children’s Health System, which recommends “best practices” for daycare centers. Even reading a book like The Wheels on the Bus, can provide a chance for kids to get up and act out the rolling of the wheels and swishing of the wiper blades, rather than sitting quietly and listening, she said.
Preschools can get creative to get kids moving. Chang noted the example of a daycare center in Petersburg, Va. which had no outdoor space of its own, but received permission to use the parking lot of a neighboring business so kids could play for an hour in the mornings.
The children’s behavior improved, as did their sleep at nap time, Chang said. Parents saw the benefits of the extra outside time and started making more opportunities for their children to play outdoors.
Day care providers need to be more explicit about making time for active play, agreed Rachel Robertson, vice president of Bright Horizons, an international chain of day care and drop-off centers.
“We as educators have to shift from hoping (active play) will happen to being as purposeful about it as we are about math and language development,” Robertson said.
Getting kids to spell out letters with their bodies or practice numbers while jumping rope can boost both activity levels and learning, she said. “We should see unstructured physical activity woven into our lifestyles,” she said, “rather than as a separate thing that we do.”