September marks the start of a new season, and with that brings a new set of opportunities for learning. Whether behind a desk at school or at the kitchen table at home; it’s never too late to teach your children the importance of physical activity and a well balanced diet.
Children in school require a significant amount of energy and brain power to grow, learn, and perform well in class. This can be best achieved by making sure that our children are consuming nutrient-rich foods and beverages, avoiding too many calories, fats, and sugars while being physically active every day.
In fact, Alliance for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Nova Scotia states that a combination of the two helps kids process information and concentrate better in class, leading to improved performance in areas like math, reading, problem solving skills, and creative abilities.
Between hectic schedules and homework deadlines, our children tend to become less active over time and parents rely on packing or buying convenient meal and beverage options that can compromise their children’s health.
Luckily, you can avoid this by following three simple rules to ensure you’re incorporating healthy behaviours throughout your child’s day: Eat well, drink less sugar, and move a lot.
1. Eat Well
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it’s essential that children receive an adequate amount of fuel for growing and learning each day. This comes in the form of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Depending on your child’s level of activity and age, a poor diet that’s full of extra calories, fat, and sugar can lead to an energy imbalance. Therefore, it’s important to take note of his or her daily recommended number of food servings and aim to reach them every single day.
2. Drink less…Sugar
Many of the drinks we turn to when our kids are thirsty are filled with added sugars and don’t always have the necessary vitamins and minerals that our kids need.
Sugar sneaks into many drinks that we prepare and give our children. Even in our best attempts to provide healthy food and drink options for our kids, we often don’t realize the actual amounts of sugar the item contains.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Canadians consume approximately 13% of their total calorie intake from added sugars; sugar sweetened beverages being the single largest contributor.
How much sugar is really in these drinks?
• 100% Fruit Juice: Unsweetened pure fruit juice contains 6.7 teaspoons of sugar in every cup.
• Pop: Regular non-diet pop contains 6.7 teaspoons of sugar in every cup.
• Caffeinated energy drinks: Caffeinated energy drinks contain an average of 6.7 teaspoons in every cup.
• Chocolate milk: Chocolate milk contains 7 teaspoons of sugar in every cup.
As children get older, they tend to consume more soft drinks and as a result more sugar. Instead of pop, which can contain caffeine and high amounts of sugar, encourage water and flavor it with lemon, orange, or cucumber for an energizing alternative.
Chocolate milk is not a healthy drink option, compared to 1% white milk, which contains less than half the sugar of chocolate milk.
Caffeinated energy drinks don’t give kids the nutrients they need, and instead provide “quick fixes” that precede intense mood and energy crashes. Instead, water can hydrate and energize kids without the added caffeine and health risks. To learn more about caffeinated energy drinks and youth, read Rethink Your Drink: The Real Effects of Energy Drinks.
3. Move a lot!
High levels of sedentary behaviour, such as sitting for long periods of time can increase health risks in children. For youth and children in school, a significant amount of sedentary time is spent at a desk or in front of a screen – whether that is a television screen or computer screen. According to Active Healthy Kids Canada:
• Children and youth get an average of 7 hours and 48 minutes of screen time per day
• Kids under six years old spent 73-84% of waking hours sedentary
• Kids ages six to19 spent 62% of their time sedentary
This is a major concern as children ages five to 17 require 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day. Vigorous-intensity activities don’t have to be hard and can definitely be fun! Choose activities that strengthen muscle and bone and make sure your kids are doing vigorous activities at least three days per week. This can include jumping rope, running, playing tag and capture the flag, bicycling, and roller-blading.
Parents play a leading role in ensuring their children get the right amount of physical activity each day. Parents should encourage children to walk or bike to school when possible, reduce screen time in the household to follow the recommended maximum of two hours a day for kids ages five to 17, and enrolling children in extra-curricular programs like the free Doctors Nova Scotia Kids’ Run Club.
Getting enough physical activity is just as important for parents. The average Canadian adult spends 50 to 70% of their daily lives in a seated position and another 30% sleeping.
Whether at our desks, in our cars, or on the couch, we sit more than we don’t.
Learn how your sitting lifestyle may be impacting your health: Is Sitting A Lethal Weapon? The Truth About Our 90 Degree Life
With these three tips, you and your children will be on the path to good health and better learning.