Belfast Telegraph

Kids, blue screens and activity - the balancing act for a happy healthy life

With the evolution of technology many children have swapped play time for screen time, much to the detriment of their mental health.In this feature, in association with Lidl, we look at the benefits of moving for both body and mind.

Exercise is essential for children to live a healthy and happy life. Not only does exercise help us maintain a healthy weight, it promotes strong muscles and bones and higher levels of self esteem according to the NHS.

The mental gains from exercise have been celebrated over the years with many health professionals dubbing it a “happy pill”. With this in mind, Lidl is working alongside the community with its Lidl Community Works Sport for Good programme.

The programme is specifically aimed at promoting positive mental health in young people in NI. It said: “One in four local young people struggle with their mental health in Northern Ireland*, a very worrying statistic for any parent or guardian to hear. That’s why we have launched the Lidl Community Works Sport For Good programme. Our mission is to encourage young people make the most of both the physical and mental benefits of taking part in sports so they can have a healthy body and mind.

“We’re helping kids celebrate the Lidl wins today, because tomorrow they’ll make a big difference.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists agrees with the positive profits that can be made from moving. It says “When you exercise it releases ‘feel good’ chemicals called endorphins in our brain. It also affects chemicals called ‘dopamine’ and ‘serotonin’ which are related to depression and anxiety”.

Exercise also provides social interaction for children which can also help build relationships further boosting self confidence and easing stress.

So what exactly qualifies as the right amount of exercise for children and how can parents ensure that quota is reached?

The NHS says “to maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5-18 need to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis”.

It adds that three times weekly these activities should involve muscle strengthening exercises including “swinging on playground equipment, hopping and skipping, and sports such as gymnastics or tennis”.

It advises limiting screen time to encourage movement and research from Australia explains why. For example, Maher et al. (2012) conducted a study with 2,200 Australian 9 to 16-year-olds and found that an increased likelihood of a child being overweight or obese was often associated with higher screen time.

And research from family activity app, Hoop, reveals only 49% of parents cap children’s blue screen time to a recommended two hours per day.

“Ultimately, it’s about finding balance,” said Max Jennings, co-founder at Hoop. “Modern technology is now an ingrained and accepted part of learning and early development and it’s amazing that our children can immediately satisfy their thirst for knowledge about the world around them via a screen. That said, it’s key that this satisfaction is countered with amazing real life experiences too. Getting kids out exploring, learning and socialising with other children is equally as beneficial to their development. What’s more, parents of children who exercise noted their children were in a better mood (20%) and slept better (30%). Parents just need to make a conscious effort to make room for both.”

To help parents understand what moderate activity is, the NHS says it should raise your heart rate and make you sweat but allows you to sing along to a favourite song simultaneously. It advised that vigorous activity will make you breathe fast and impact on your ability to talk without stopping for a breath. Vigorous activity includes playing chase, energetic dancing swimming, running, gymnastics, football, rugby, martial arts, such as karate and cycling fast or on hilly terrain.

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Some ways to encourage more movement is to enrol your child in a local sports team, placing boundaries on screen time and most importantly, become a good example.

Carly Corrigall, a personal trainer and fitness specialist who works with parents and children advises:

The best way to include exercise into a busy lifestyle is through making exercise fun. Fun games and activities that involve physical activity, such as mindful walks, are great at integrating activity. Exercise doesn't have to expensive or elaborate; garden races, impromptu games in the park, and even yoga stretching are all great ways to be active!

“Role modelling is also key,” she says. “If children see adults enjoying exercise, then it can become a family norm. Physical exercise can be about connecting with others, and the outdoors, so making it an integral part of the day, can develop healthy lifestyle beliefs that children will take into adulthood.”

Lidl Community Works Sport for Good is a new chapter in the retailer’s Lidl Community Works programme which was set up in 2014. It was created with the aim to to provide support and resources to local communities in NI.

Since its launch it has engaged with over 750 community groups and has donated over well over hundreds of thousands of pounds to local Northern Irish community groups. It has been involved in everything from working with local communities to helping organise bake sales, painting walls and fundraising. And in 2017 it donated £228,000 to 115 local groups.

To find out more and see how your local youth sports club could
WIN £4000 worth of sporting equipment visit www.lidl-ni.co.uk/communityworks

*Source: Mental Health Foundation’s Fundamental Facts for Northern Ireland, October 2018.

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