Did you know that Japanese children are considered ‘the healthiest children in the world’, while kids in the UK, the USA, and Australia are some of the unhealthiest?
Japan’s child obesity rate is one of the lowest of any developed nation. Research indicates that could be partly because walking to school is still common in Japan. The lifestyle of Japanese children in general may also contribute, including the healthy traditional diet (which is low in saturated fat and includes a lot of fruit and vegetables).
There’s also a big focus on school sport in Japan, and even a public holiday called ‘Sports Day’.
SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
However, just like in other developed countries, there has been a concern in Japanese society that children play outside less often these days.
And this is a worrying trend for kids all over the world, because there’s no escaping the evidence: physical activities are beneficial not just for children’s fitness levels and neurological development but also for their self-esteem and mental health.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
One of the clear benefits of families getting their children involved in weekend sport activities is the opportunity to socialise with other children, often outside their normal group of school friends.
Playing sports may also help children develop more understanding of the need to practise and work hard to achieve goals – not just sporting goals but other things that need long-term planning.
And even watching sport on TV, children can see athletes training hard and celebrating their teammates’ success together, which also demonstrates how sports can be opportunities to develop social and interpersonal skills.
NOT ALWAYS EASY, THOUGH
There are some situations in which it is difficult to encourage children to be active. For example, single parent families might find it difficult to get their children involved with activities outside schools due to time (e.g., the parent working long hours) and financial constraints.
Perhaps a bigger problem is that many children prefer 'playing' inside, on video and computer games. They may spend more time watching sport (and other things) on TV than taking part!
IT STARTS WITH ADULTS
In such situations, how can we encourage our children to have an active lifestyle? One of the things we can all do is become more active ourselves! Children, especially little children, like copying what others are doing. They don’t need much encouragement to imitate the dance moves of their favourite music idols or mimic their early childhood teachers in action-based songs. But surely we can’t just leave it to pop stars and teachers?
EXERCISING FOR LOVE
Of course, physical activities are good for adults as well as for children. So getting active with your children is also beneficial to you. But if you won’t do it for health reasons alone, think about this: for children, and even teenagers, doing something with a parent is special.
Children perceive that parents doing something with them is proof that the parents see spending time with them as fun, precious, and worthwhile. In short, it shows children that you love them.
So, does this change the way you see physical activities, knowing they can help not only your family’s health but also your family relationships?
It might be difficult to incorporate physical activities on top of work and chores. But it may be worth considering spending just a short time, even just five or 10 minutes a day, on a short brisk walk or cycle around the block, bouncing a balloon in the lounge room, dancing to music, using a skipping rope, or something else that’s easy and fun. Just a little effort can have a big reward!