In the whole world, there are over 2.3 billion kids and teenagers. An estimated 80% of them (1.84 billion) don’t get enough physical activity. Stop for a moment and imagine that number; the sheer volume of that figure is staggering. To put it in context, the largest stadium in the UK, Wembley Stadium, has a capacity of 90000. Now imagine more than 20000 of those stadiums, completely full of sedentary kids, lined up next to each other.
It’s a big number; a really, really big number. The kind of number that makes you realise that, in a time when the entire world is focused on a COVID-19 pandemic that numbers in the millions of cases, we have a childhood inactivity pandemic that numbers in the billions. And we’re not doing a whole lot about it.
The World Health Organization advises that kids and teens aged 5 – 17 should get an average of 60 mins of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) each day. They also estimate that more than 80% of kids and teens are not reaching this recommendation.
Getting enough physical activity comes with a host of physical health benefits for kids. Some of these include increased cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, better body weight management, improved bone structure and strength, and increased metabolic health (such as measures of blood pressure and cholesterol).
In addition, prolonged and consistent physical activity has been shown to improve a range of cognitive functions such as working memory, planning, and attention. Low levels of activity are also believed to contribute negatively to mental health and health-risk behaviors.
The evidence is clear: kids need to move more, and they need support to make it happen. The old adage that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is never truer than when helping them establish a positive relationship with physical activity. It’s hard to isolate what motivates kids to move but research points to it being a combination of influences from their teachers, schools, friends, siblings and, vitally, parents.
A 2016 study by Solomon-Moore et al. looked at the relationship between parents’ motivation to exercise, and levels of physical activity across adults and children. The authors share these findings from the research:
It comes down to this: what parents do matters. Providing logistical support (in the form of scheduling, access and transportation to activities), encouragement, and role modeling active behaviors are all key determinants of kids’ willingness to be active. In fact, kids are 6.3 times more likely to be active than inactive if they receive significant support from their parents.
For many children, their already insufficient levels of physical activity reduce drastically as they get older. This decline is especially true through their teen years, and appears to be greatest in girls. Recruiting family support is a crucial component of helping kids establish healthy activity behaviors that last well beyond their younger years.
For many parents, competing commitments can make it challenging to fit more activity into already busy schedules. Yet finding ways to do so can be hugely beneficial. Parents who move more lead to kids who move more, too. On average, a child’s MVPA goes up by 5-10 mins for every additional 20 mins that their parent performs.
Animal Flow Certified Instructor and Regional Leader from Hamilton, New Zealand, Bobby Yang, was delighted when his two sons started mimicking his practice. “I didn’t have to ask or force them to try Animal Flow,” he says. “I was teaching a session online to clients and these two little guys just started trying it behind my back. That’s really how it started.”
Once he realised that Ezra, 9, was keen to learn more they decided to “do it properly,” often practicing together with Animal Flow On Demand. “Over the past year, Ezra has even helped me with my sessions,” Bobby says proudly. “He demonstrates some of the movements which is quite cool because I can even use him to show the corrections and the cue points.”
“Noah’s three so he just wants to have fun,” Bobby laughs. “We just started doing some crawling together at the beach and he’d copy some of the movements I was doing. It comes quite naturally for kids which I think is also great for adults to see. It makes you realise that if a kid can do it, then I probably can, too.” (Almost on cue, Noah jumps off his seat to show me his favourite Animal Flow move, the Tuck Balance.)
What’s Bobby’s advice for other parents who are keen to encourage their kids to try Animal Flow? “Just do it with them,” he says. “They won’t stay focused for long, so keep it fun and short. Even 15-20 mins is long enough. And don’t try to be perfect, just be side-by-side with them, building up your connection.”
If you think too hard about how to help the 20000 stadiums full of kids and teens who are largely inactive, it can feel overwhelming. But what if we started to inspire change where we hold the most influence–in our own backyard? Who knows the extent of the ripple effect that might be possible by dropping your single movement pebble into a pool of inactivity.
In Flowing with the Family (Part 2), we talk to Ezra and two other young Flowists, Janka and Marcus, about their experiences with AF.
Getting kids moving doesn’t have to come at the expense of your movement. Try your 14-day free trial at Animal Flow On Demand and share a fun and fit activity that the whole family can practice together.