Exercise for Children and Young People with Dr. Leigh Vanderloo

Exercise for Children and Young People with Dr. Leigh Vanderloo

by Chris Tompkins | June 1, 2023

Dr. Leigh Vanderloo is a research scientist specializing in pediatric exercise science and is currently scientific director at ParticipACTION. The main thrust of her work at ParticipACTION is helping kids incorporate movement more naturally into their day by figuring out how to make the healthy choice, the easy choice.

On the importance of physical activity for young people

Dr. Vanderloo cautions that when we talk about the importance of physical activity, many of us automatically think of weight management.

“Most young girls start their first diet while they’re in elementary school,” Dr. Vanderloo says on the Shaping Our World podcast.

We want to move away from those narratives that frame movement in a negative way and frame exercise in a positive way from an early age. She says that it is essential to start associating movement with physical benefits like building stronger bones and muscles; better lung and heart health; and helping to maintain good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. She’s also quick to point out that movement benefits us more than just physiologically.

“[Exercise] also impacts our relational health, our social health and even our brain health,” Dr. Vanderloo says.

Cognitively, exercise helps with focus, information retention and creative problem solving. It also helps with our mental health, too, positively impacting our stress management and resiliency. Most importantly, it helps to minimize symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How do Canadian kids stack up?

Each year, ParticipACTION releases a report card on physical activity for Canadian children and youth and for 2022/23 Canadian kids received a D.

“Not even 30% of children and youth are meeting national physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day,” Dr. Vanderloo says.

She explains that part of the problem is that physical activity has been socially engineered out of our everyday lives — we don’t have to spend as much energy to do errands or socialize, etc. as our grandparents or even our parents did. And, of course, the proliferation of screens is also partly to blame. She is quick to point out that she doesn’t believe in villainizing screens, but rather her goal is to learn to live with them in a healthy and responsible way — something she and her colleagues are actively researching.

Bringing up our grade

Dr. Vanderloo gives the following tips on how we can collectively bring up both our kids’ grade while also incorporating movement into our own lives:

Make it fun: The way to keep kids from being sedentary is by incorporating movement into their lives in a fun way that capitalizes on something they already enjoy doing. “If we can link it to something that [they] enjoy, [they’re] more likely to come back to that behaviour”, Dr. Vanderloo explains. “And when it comes to physical activity, we want people to keep repeating it.”

Make it a family affair: She also underlines the importance of involving parents because when kids are young, parents have a lot of influence on the amount of movement they get. Dr. Vanderloo suggests finding a family activity that allows you to bond and have fun while incorporating movement.

Something is better than nothing: Dr. Vanderloo advises against adopting the all-or-nothing approach we tend to take when it comes to exercise because it can be a huge deterrent. Instead, we should be adopting the position that something is always better than nothing. Even if you start small or break your movement up into 10-minute chunks throughout the day, the important thing is that you do it.

Take it outdoors: Not only are kids and adults more active outdoors, but extended periods of screen use drop way down when we’re outside.

Dress for the activity: In Canada, we have to dress in layers when we’re exercising outdoors so we’re not uncomfortably hot or cold, which can be a barrier to exercise.

Variety is the spice of life: Dr. Vanderloo says that sampling a variety of activities until your child finds something (or things!) that they really enjoy and want to do is pivotal to making movement a natural part of their day even if it’s as simple as walking the dog through the park before dinner.

For more on what Dr. Vanderloo has to say about getting our kids moving, listen to the complete episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.


[00:00:12.830] – Speaker 2
Well, hey, everyone, and welcome back to the Shaping Our World podcast. It’s great to have you join us again for another episode. And today we’re diving into a topic that we haven’t really covered much in our podcasts. And it’s a topic that I think is really, really important to young people. And we have an incredible expert that is going to speak into it today. Today, we’re talking about physical activity with kids and youth and even adults. And to do that, we’ve invited Dr. Leigh Vanderloo on the show. Dr. Vanderloo received her PhD in health promotion from the University of Western Ontario in 2016. Her area of research focuses on the objective measurement of physical activity and sedentary time and how these behaviours impact physical, mental, and social wellbeing. In 2021, she completed her research fellowship at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where her research examined the association between movement behaviours and various health outcomes in young children. Currently, Leigh is working as the scientific director at ParticipACTION, a nonprofit organization in Canada, and is an adjunct professor in the School of Occupational Therapy at Western University. The conversation goes by so fast with so much information, so you’re going to really need to pay attention and buckle up.

[00:01:29.370] – Speaker 2
And it’s something that I know is really challenging to think through and is going to be really helpful for us as we journey alongside the young people we care about and think about their health and well being. So join us for this conversation with Dr. Leigh Vanderloo. Welcome to the show, Leigh.

[00:01:51.220] – Speaker 1
Thanks so much for having me.

[00:01:52.530] – Speaker 2
Yeah, it’s great to have you. So we’re going to dive right in to get to know you a little bit more. When you were growing up, what shaped your world when you were a kid or a teen?

[00:02:02.080] – Speaker 1
I was really fortunate to grow up with a close knit family. Actually, my parents are separated, but they really made a commitment to ensuring that we still had a really intact family unit, which I know is not something everyone gets when your parents separate. But because of that, I found that we still had a pretty fun childhood. I would say my family, first and foremost, not just my nuclear family, but my extended family, and really put an emphasis of when break time came, whether it was vacation, whether it was just a PD day, that we really did something that allowed us to further bond. And a lot of that involved us just being outdoors. So we camped a lot growing up, went to the park a lot. We lived close, so we backed onto a ravine. So just being able to interact with nature, I think that’s why me and my sisters have such a love for the outdoors, but also just animals in general, like loving the wildlife and everything. I think for us that was, and definitely for me, that was an important family time and family time outdoors.

[00:03:09.160] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s great. It’s going to feed right into our conversation today, and I’m sure has a bit to do with what you currently do with your life. But we’re going to get to that. What’s shaping your world personally? I’m sure some of that has evolved into as you’ve grown up, but help us to know a little bit more about you.

[00:03:25.870] – Speaker 1
Yeah. I’d say now it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Obviously, some of my interests and stuff have changed, but definitely some things that have remained is definitely spending time with those closest to me. T hat’s still my family and definitely friends. I have a lot of friends that I’ve been fortunate to be friends with since elementary school and then people that I’ve met through high school, university, grad school, and even work. I’d say spending time, quality time is something that I like, even if it’s just dinner or going over to their houses to hang out. It doesn’t have to be grand, but I really do cherish that time outdoors. Anytime I can get outdoors, whether it’s camping, hiking, swimming, particularly in a lake, I love traveling, and I’ve been really trying to get back into reading for pleasure, which I know is probably sounds a bit ridiculous, given that what I do for a living as a scientist and a researcher really does involve a lot of reading. But it’s been a while since I’ve done it just for pleasure and trying to find out what genres really speak to me. So that’s been fun to explore.

[00:04:34.800] – Speaker 2
That’s great. So tell us a little bit about the work that you do. How are you shaping the world of everybody, but particularly young people today? Talk about your role.

[00:04:45.370] – Speaker 1
Yeah. So I’m a research scientist and my area is within Pediatric Exercise Science. Specifically, my work is really just looking at ways that we can help kids, so anywhere from birth all the way up to under 18, live their most active lives. And how do we make the healthy choice the easy choice? So trying to make it the default option to just sneak in a little bit more movement, but also to help kids, teens find that passion for moving. I know for me, sometimes it always hasn’t been the easiest where I could easily go to a gym or run on a treadmill, and it still isn’t that. And so for me, it’s really looking at what do you enjoy, what brings you joy, what do you have fun doing, and taking that and trying to find ways to creatively add a bit more movement. So looking at ways that we can either modify the environment, whether it’s the actual physical environment or even your social environment, that still plays a really important role. And then if we can link it to something that you enjoy, you’re more likely to come back to that behavior.

[00:05:56.320] – Speaker 1
And when it comes to physical activity, we want people to keep repeating it. On the flip side, also trying to help kids, teens, and their families because for many kids that age or individuals that age, their parents play a very important role or their family as a whole. And so trying to support the whole family unit as well to look at how can we still ensure that we’re having time to bond as a family, but that we’re finding ways to integrate a little bit more movement and also to be mindful of our screen use and sedentary behaviors. I very much adhere to, we don’t want to demonize screens. They’re not going anywhere, so we have to learn how to healthily cohabitate with them. Screens do technology is great in a lot of ways as well. And so how can we just find ways to live with them healthily and responsibly?

[00:06:49.460] – Speaker 2
That’s great. And we mentioned this in the intro in the bio, but for those listeners who are in Canada who are maybe in my vintage age, you’re the scientific director for ParticipACTION. Many of us grew up with BodyBreak with Hal and Joanne with ParticipACTION, sponsoring that television show. It was a real effort to… I just have that, I can see all those little things blurbs from BrodyBreak in my mind.

[00:07:19.900] – Speaker 1
Yeah, that.

[00:07:21.020] – Speaker 2
Like, nostalgic. For someone like me, it’s cool to bring you on as a scientific director for the organization still.

[00:07:28.220] – Speaker 1
Yeah. No, I feel very privileged to work at an organization like ParticipACTION because I am also a 90’s baby. And yeah, growing up, it has that nostalgic factor. There’s still things I think about even when I go on a plane, like a long haul flight of doing those little exercises of lifting your legs up in the seed and moving around. So yeah, I’m happy that it’s come full circle and that I actually am able to work at an organization that specifically aligns with not only my personal passions and interests, but also what I studied and trained in school as you don’t.

[00:08:06.730] – Speaker 2
Always get that. I think did a great job. I can still probably hear the music in my head as it kicks on on the television. So that’s great. Today we want to dive into a conversation about physical activity, the role it plays, and beyond that, but particularly around that and the role it plays in the overall health and development of children and youth, which, again, I love that your expertise in that. So we’re going to get into some specifics as the conversation moves along. But generally speaking, and again, I think we all know this intellectually, but maybe let’s drill down a little bit of why is physical activity so important for young people?

[00:08:47.460] – Speaker 1
Yeah. No, I think that’s an excellent question, Chris. I think we oftentimes think about when we think of physical activity, we almost instinctively go to weight management, or we should be active because it helps maintain healthy body weights, or it’s going to help us stay in shape or lose weight. And those conversations or narratives start at a very young age. There’s research to show that most young girls start their first diet while they’re in elementary school. And so to really think about that, that those are those narratives. And this is why oftentimes we see those… We don’t always have the best relationship with how we choose to move our bodies. Or we think back to gym class. And for many kids, that’s their first exposure to sports or physical activity. And if they had a negative experience there, that can sometimes continue and stay with them all throughout adolescence into adulthood. And so we really want to start to build those healthy habits and healthy relationships early on in age. And the reason for this is, of course, the more we move our body, it has physical benefits, whether it’s building stronger bones, muscles, helping with our lung and heart health, helping to maintain good blood pressure, your cholesterol, all of that, absolutely important.

[00:10:05.600] – Speaker 1
It’s specifically going to help with building strong bones and supporting joints and ligaments. Particularly for women and young girls where we often feel like we should stay away from weights and all that stuff because we’re out of fear of bulking up. Really, it’s one of the best things we can do, particularly with building strong bones since women, as we age, we are 10 times more likely to develop arthritis or o steoporosis. And so this is another reason why we certainly want to ensure that we’re getting those strong bones when we’re younger. But probably more importantly, and especially with everything we’ve seen with COVID, is that physical activity really does impact positively almost every domain of our health. So we talked about the physical, but it also is going to impact our relational health, our social health, but even our brain health. We can divide that into two sections. One, cognitive, so how we think or learn. It’s going to help us focus better, recall information, retain new information. If you’re a student, this is going to be great because you’re going to be able to take in what you’re learning. You’re going to be able to apply it more readily.

[00:11:18.440] – Speaker 1
You’re going to be able to more creatively problem solve. And you’re more likely to make less mistakes when being tested if you’re someone who’s more active versus less active. Another part of the brain that it really positively impacts is anything to do with mental health. So not only our stress management and resiliency, so how fast we’re able to bounce back from a stressful situation, but it also is going to play a really important role in decreasing or minimizing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which, as I mentioned, after COVID, many of us have experienced even greater deterioration to our overall mental health and wellness or feeling more stressed, a little bit more anxious. And so being active and moving our bodies, even just a little bit every day, is going to go a long way in terms of providing this buffering effect of either preventing the onset of those types of symptoms or thinking patterns, or it’s going to prevent further progression. So if you are someone who’s already struggling with those symptoms, it’s going to be a great thing to add to your arsenal or treatment.

[00:12:27.320] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. When you just listen to that, you’re like, Oh, my goodness. How much physical activity impacts so many things. I played a lot of sports growing up and took gym class all through high school. And I can remember in my last actual gym class, there was a Kinesiology class. I’m dating myself back in grade 13. But in grade 12, we did a whole bunch of different physical sports activities, even the recreational stuff. And I can honestly, I can still remember to this day rolling my eyes at my gym teacher, but they were saying, One of the things we’re trying to do is help you see how to build physical activity patterns in your life now so that as you get older, they’ll stay with you from that journey, rather than trying to start something at 45 if you’ve got that. And I remember being a kid thinking, I don’t really know. Sure, whatever. And now as I’m at my age, I’m like, Oh, my goodness, he was bang on. If we can start as kids to build habits. And I know for me, one of the things that he told me, which is so true today, is finding some of the sports that are easier to continue as you get older.

[00:13:44.110] – Speaker 2
I played a lot of basketball and volleyball. Well, it’s hard to get those games going now, but tennis or golf or things like that. And so developing habits and patterns and finding that even at a young age. Because it’s hard at 16 or 12 to think about things like cholesterol or blood pressure or all that stuff. But man, if we can start to build the patterns in today, what a huge difference it can make down the road as well. So on the ParticipACTION website, the 24 hours movement guidelines for children and youth aged 5 to 17 indicate that the optimal amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity is at least 60 minutes a day with several more hours of light physical activity like steps or whatever. So that’s the guideline. And each year you put out a report card on physical activity for children and youth. Can you tell us whether Canadian kids make the grade? How are our kids doing when it comes to that?

[00:14:42.990] – Speaker 1
Yeah. U nfortunately, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. Not even 30 % of children and youth are meeting national physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. The large majority are not. And it’s not that they are just missing the mark. They are leaps and bounds away from meeting that, unfortunately. It’s not necessarily a reflection of personal behavior or personal choice, certainly circumstances. But physical activity has really been socially engineered out of our day to day lives. In order to complete most of the tasks or day to day things we have to do, even in terms of just socializing or getting together with friends, it no longer requires the same amount of energy input as it would have done even if we look at our parents or even going back further, grandparents, great grandparents. That’s one thing. Then obviously, just the explosion of screens in general. When it comes to, if we’re looking at the grades from the participation report card, we’re looking at about a D for physical activity. But when it comes to…

[00:16:02.710] – Speaker 2
Sorry, you said a D, basically close to failing.

[00:16:06.510] – Speaker 1
D, yeah.

[00:16:07.090] – Speaker 2
Yeah, right.

[00:16:08.410] – Speaker 1
Yes. So yeah, so not great.

[00:16:11.550] – Speaker 2
Not very encouraging for an afternoon.

[00:16:14.990] – Speaker 1
No, but if we look at also screen use, two years ago, so just before the pandemic started, we were sitting around a D minus. So again, most kids were exceeding two hours of recreational screen use per day. And this is for kids over the age of four. For any one younger, we’re looking at about one hour of screen use per day for three to four year olds and no screen use for kids under two. And that’s mostly because there’s just no evidence to support that for children, zero to two. There’s any benefit with them interacting with the screen, even if it is for educational purposes. But as they start to age, there are some benefits. Again, it’s around that healthy use of screens. But obviously with COVID, we were starting with an already not so great level. You’re throwing the pandemic, which really resulted in us having an over reliance or an increased reliance on screens. It wasn’t only how kids were learning with the online instruction, it’s also how they were just their leisure time, recreation. What were they going to do? They were going to stream shows. They were going to be on TikTok, video games, but also how they were socializing.

[00:17:31.740] – Speaker 1
So in terms of how they were able to keep in contact with friends and family, it was also through screens and video chatting. So it’s not surprising that we got one from a D minus all the way to an F, so a failing grade because of the situations and now that COVID has… It’s still around, but we’re in that peri pandemic stage. We’ve definitely started to see physical activity levels jump up, which is great. Part of this is because a lot of us were spending a little bit more time outdoors. Kids were opting to utilize more active forms of transportation to get to a friend’s house or to get to the park, which is awesome. So hopefully we’ll keep to see that. And then, of course, sports or community centers have opened back up and so their offerings have commenced. So that’s great to see that camps have started back up. That’s really great to see. More of a appreciation for nature. I definitely have observed, not just only anecdotally, but in research, seeing that there’s more of appreciation because when everything was shut down, there wasn’t a lot to do except for maybe go outside.

[00:18:41.560] – Speaker 2

[00:18:42.150] – Speaker 1
One thing that still remains an area of concern, particularly for me in my area of work, is still this high screen use. And so that continues. So clinicians, scientists, parents trying to think about how are we going to combat these high levels and bring them down to even pre pandemic levels. And how do you compete with the allure of screens? So definitely something that we’ll have to keep focusing on in the months to come.

[00:19:09.070] – Speaker 2
Okay. So that was a lot. I’m listening to that going, oh, man. A lot to unpack. Yeah. I was taking furious notes and going, Wow. T hen you start to… Anyways, we’re going to dive into this a little bit more. L et’s talk about Zooming out. You mentioned lifestyle and where we’re at today. I was thinking even as I was listening to you, as part of our world is a bit more focused on protecting our kids. I even know me. I will drive my daughter around town more places than I ever got driven as a kid because my parents would just be like, Just go walk. Walk to your friends. You want Tim Horton’s? Go walk. Now even our culture of accessibility, and I don’t mean accessibility from working with disability side of things, but just access to things is like, Well, if I don’t want to walk to McDonald’s, I’ll just Uber Eats it to the house, even if parents won’t drive me. There’s a lot in our lifestyle that’s changed. Let’s maybe zoom in on a little bit more because we talk about this is Canada’s physical inactivity crisis. And there’s some studies and things out there that the healthiest people in the world tended to be those that built in activities like a 20 minute walk to work every day.

[00:20:30.800] – Speaker 2
So how do we start to undo the cultural lifestyle stuff and not even just for kids, but even for all of us in general? What can we do in our regular everyday lives and with kids to encourage some of that activity level?

[00:20:46.830] – Speaker 1
Yeah, absolutely. You raise so many great points, Chris, just all the way throughout. So many of the things you’ve touched on were changes in cultural or social shifts that we’ve seen, even from where our parents would have dropped us off to where we’re willing to take.

[00:21:03.320] – Speaker 2
Our kids.

[00:21:04.030] – Speaker 1
And not think twice about it. Because, yeah, there is that desire to protect our kids, that bubble wrap culture. And it comes from an inherently good place that we want to protect our children. But it’s looking at do we need to be as safe as necessary versus safe as possible?

[00:21:28.620] – Speaker 2
Well, and I can remember even myself the other day driving and seeing one of my neighbor kids, who’s probably grade 4, grade 5, walking home. And there’s this quick little thing like, her parents let her walk home from school. And I’m probably a parent that’s a bit more like, go out there and probably am not as protective of some. But I just caught myself going, Why is that a problem? I live in a small town, it’s safe. And I’ve heard, and this might not be accurate, so nobody sent me any emails. This is just anecdotally, it may not be true today, but there was a period of time when we were worried about our kids that technically it was safer in our communities than when it was when I was growing up, when my parents barely knew where I was between after school and when it started to get dark. And so there’s some of that that I’m just like, we’ve got this thinking here. So how do we unwind that? How do we start to build some of these things in? I know you were just about to say when I rudely.

[00:22:30.510] – Speaker 1
Interrupted you. Yeah. No, no, no. Oh, my gosh. No, no. Again, you’re just bringing all of these relatable examples that I think most parents, or even if you don’t have children, these are such reality and you catch yourself thinking, Oh, I would never be one of those parents that are so overprotective. But inherently, the decision is just happening habit. I think about me and my sisters were Irish triplets, so very, very close in age. I remember thinking, we’re going off to school in preschool, kindergarten, like JKSK, and leaving to go. And when your backpacks are bigger than you are and you can barely walk out the door and just mom sending us off. Whereas, yeah, you see the amount of parents and it’s dropping off their kids now at school, the amount of congestion. But now the issue is, we’re worried about kids getting hit by cars outside the school because there’s so much more traffic congestion. And that just wasn’t a thing when I was going to school. The only thing that really came up were school buses. And so, yeah. So some of those things is definitely there was this bigger explosion in stranger danger there’s just more…

[00:23:46.500] – Speaker 1
It’s not that there was this for a long time going around that there was this notion that obstructions were happening all the time or that it was a higher risk. What we actually know is that based on reports from the RCMP, it’s only about one in 14 billion chance of having a child of a complete stranger abduction. It’s very, very slim. In Canada, does it happen? Of course, but very, very slim. But it has just been that we now have the type of media and way to exchange information that just didn’t exist decades ago. So it’s just much more either reported or it’s sensationalized when they were always happening. We’re just seeing it more. Another reason is that parents are also really afraid of their kids potentially getting hurt. So not even just being abducted, but also just being hurt. And again, if we look at hospital reports and ER reports, again, the amount of injuries that come in that are very severe, so above maybe scrapes, bruises, the occasional broken arm, or collarbone, which are pretty frequent in sometimes younger kids, again, are very, very slim. But it’s this idea of if we can protect our kids as much as we can.

[00:25:08.220] – Speaker 1
We went from bubble wrap to helicopter parenting to now lawn mowing parenting that we will just rather than just circling around to ensure nothing hurts them. Now we’re just going to preemptively, I’m just going to assume anything in their path could get in their way, and so I’m just going to clear it.

[00:25:25.980] – Speaker 2
For them. Yeah, like a.

[00:25:27.820] – Speaker 1
Snow plow. Exactly. So we know not only is that removing opportunities for them based on what we’re talking today, to be active, to explore the outdoors, to be outside, is that we’re also removing opportunities to gain really important social skills that they’re gaining, to also navigate their own boundaries. So you think about when you were climbing a tree as a kid, there’d always be that point where innately you’d be like, You know what? This branch seems a bit too thin, or I’m not going to do it. And you just wouldn’t step on it. Now we’re seeing that there is some more injuries is because a lot of times you don’t know what you don’t know. And without giving those opportunities of trial and error, we are seeing that. Of course, it’s important to be safe and you don’t want to be reckless. So we want kids to be outside and be active and active transportation is great. In order to do that safely, we want kids to know about the importance of wearing a helmet if you’re on a bike, or to understand the rules of traffic, when to cross the road, look both ways, know the lights, how those work.

[00:26:31.480] – Speaker 1
But again, using that, it’s that whole safe as possible versus safe as necessary. In 2015, participation with about another 20 different organizations and representatives across a variety of different industries and field. Not just those usual suspects like sport, physical activity, recreation. But we had health care, we had injury prevention, we had insurance and legal representatives come up with what’s now known as the position statement and outdoor active play. It really is this short two page document which is just the main… It’s all about myth busting. So what are some of the main reasons why parents aren’t letting their kids go outdoors or what’s getting in the way for kids being active? And then it provides hundreds and hundreds of research or medically backed reports that are demonstrating here’s what it really is. So, Oh, I don’t want my kids to be outside because of allergies, or they might get irritated and realizing that it’s actually allergens are more actually common if they’re staying indoors at all times and not actually being exposed, upper respiratory infections because of dust and pet dander and all those kinds of things. So it just helps, again, the more information we know, the more we’re able to make decisions that are best for our family and our situation.

[00:28:00.680] – Speaker 1
Of course, every family differs. If we want to look a little bit beyond that and just look at or take it specific to physical activity or just even outdoor play, a couple of things that I would recommend, and again, these are just simple things. It doesn’t cost anything because, again, in Canada, we have a variety of different families with different circumstances. We want to ensure that everyone’s being provided with these equitable opportunities as much as possible. When it comes to physical activity, we really want that to be something that can become a part of everyone’s identity and that it’s not just something reserved for the sporty or athletic people. If you weren’t really athletic or active as a kid, but you’re now a parent and you’re looking to do it with your child, to tell there’s still time. It’s never too late. But yeah, to be aware of what the guidelines are. So for kids, it’s 60 minutes a day. So depending on where your child is starting, maybe they’ve always been active, maybe they haven’t. But you’re hearing this podcast and all the great benefits we’ve talked about, and so you want to start. So you want to start.

[00:29:06.910] – Speaker 1
First and foremost is that something’s better than nothing. So even if you’re like, Okay, it’s going to be a little hard to get the 60 minutes in a day. Maybe you have a really busy jam packed date. That’s okay. Start small. Even if you can get maybe 10 minutes, that’s great. It also doesn’t need to be accumulated all in a single bout. I think a lot of times, even us as adults, we think like, Oh, if I can’t go to the gym and do at least an hour workout, what’s the point? I think that actually deters a lot of people or people end up missing out on opportunities to be active on a more regular basis because there’s that all or nothing approach that we take. But if you can only get in 20 minutes, 10 minutes, that’s great. It doesn’t have to be all at once. So even if you break it up into three 20 minutes bouts of activity or even 6, 10 minutes bouts, like sprinkled throughout the day, that’s awesome. So something’s better than nothing. More is always better where we can do that. Next is try to take the activity outdoors as much as you can.

[00:30:09.290] – Speaker 1
And this is for multiple reasons, not only because we know based on a number of research, kids and even adults are more active and less sedentary outdoors. We’re less likely to be on our screens for extended periods of time when we are outdoors. We are also exposed to more natural sunlight, which is good not only for our mental health, for reasons related to eyesight. Again, trying to see further distances prevents an increased onset of myopia. It’s going to help with our circadian rhythm, so our sleep wake cycles, which is really important because when we think of our key movement behaviors, it’s physical activity, sedentary behaviors, as well as sleep. All three of them are integrated and help each other out. But also you’re more likely outdoors to be exposed to fresh air, to a number of fight insides, which are those natural oils and scents that are released by plants or trees outside, which have really important impacts on not only our overall immunity, but also our mental health as well. And so if we can take it outdoors even in the winter, so for many of us living in Canada, we don’t necessarily always have the warmest weather all year round.

[00:31:27.140] – Speaker 1
So dressing for the occasion, dressing layers. If you are going to be active outdoors, dress as if it’s 10 degrees warmer because as soon as you start moving, you will start to feel warmer and then you don’t want to be sweating and that’s going to be cool.

[00:31:42.230] – Speaker 2
I make that mistake every time we walk the dog.

[00:31:45.700] – Speaker 1
Same. Another one is to make family time active time. So when you are thinking of an activity to do together, you do. For me growing up, it was a lot of times Friday night movies. We’d go to Blockbuster and me and my sisters would each pick out a movie for the weekend. That would be something like, we could not wait to get there and pick that. Then we’d watch one of the movies with our parents. I think something, while that’s great and that’s such an important point because you got to bond and talk about your day and it was just something, it’s a cherished childhood memory is thinking about how could you have snuck in a little bit of movement, like, maybe right before we went on a quick walk, or maybe we walked to the.

[00:32:30.470] – Speaker 2
Blockbuster or parked further away.

[00:32:32.570] – Speaker 1
Or went to the park right after dinner, or took the family dog on a walk before we all sat down. So think about ways you don’t want to displace those really important opportunities for bonding, but think of ways that we can adding a little bit more movement. Another one is just sampling. I think a lot of times every kid or a lot of kids end up being put in house League soccer at some point. Some kids love it. They thrive, they want to continue. Other ones just don’t enjoy it at all. It then becomes a dreaded part of the week and even for the parents of having to fight, come back with their kid to get there. It’s not necessarily a fun time. And so that’s okay. Then it’s trying something else. Maybe they don’t like the group activity or group sports. So maybe it’s looking for more of an individual activity or maybe it’s just not that. So having that option to sample different things. And again, it doesn’t have to be necessarily something that costs money. It can be something as simple as just walking around outdoors, going for a bike ride. Other ways is you mentioned previously, some of the healthiest people around the world are ones where physical activity is just an expected part of everyday life.

[00:33:50.650] – Speaker 1
So looking for opportunities to actively commute every day to and from school or to and from work. Depending on where you live, that might not always be possible. If you are someone who’s driving your kids, is there an option that you only drive them part way and they walk the rest, or you pick them up a little bit further? Yeah, that’s really good.

[00:34:08.620] – Speaker 1
So again, you’re still getting them there. You’re still being mindful of time. But this is going to ensure that even if it is the most busiest, jam packed day, they will at least have that 10 minute walk in the morning from your car to school and at the end. So that’s at least 20 minutes that’s reserved. Bonus is if they get a little bit more time in throughout the day. We also know that being physically active and combating against everything that we’re up against, it’s a complex issue. It’s not just an individual problem. I think oftentimes we think people that aren’t active are just lazy and that’s a personal choice. And that’s just not the case. I think that’s too simplistic for us to think. There are so many sources of influence on not only the individual level, but your social, how you are at home. If no one else wants to be active, it might be really hard for a kid to get active. We tend to mimic the behaviors of our parents. So we know that parents that are more active have more active kids. Parents that are less active or engage in higher screen use have kids that do the same.

[00:35:19.210] – Speaker 1
So being mindful of our own behaviors, designating screen free zones within the house or some screen free rules. So maybe no screens at the dinner table or when we’re having meals. Another one is, and just for good sleep hygiene, not having screens in the bedroom period. It delays sleep time and also added blue light exposure, which can also throw off our circadian rhythm, so our sleep wake cycle. Different things like that are just some initial great ways that I think are some steps in the right direction to help make the healthy choice the easy choice. I want to dive.

[00:35:58.280] – Speaker 2
Into the screen stuff in a bit more depth here. But before we do that, Lee, you’re offering so much gold in here. I was trying to keep up even for my own notes, but I loved what you even… Because we talked about this earlier, add in movement. I know personally for me, I’ve made it a goal to use the steps instead of elevators, wherever I go. It’s like that one little thing. Another little tip, too, that I’ve heard, and I don’t always practice it, but when we’re with our kids and we’re going to appointments or stuff, park at the farthest parking spot from the building, not the closest. Because then it seems so silly, but all it is is just like, you just get a little more walking in between the car and your appointment. And we’re always like, we feel like we’re rushing and we’re going to be late. But I’m like, what it takes to walk across a parking lot in a grocery store, it’s not going to make us entirely late for the things we’re doing. And it’s just building those movement things into your day and your rhythm. So as we’re coming and going and doing errands, I loved your thing of like, if you want to drive your kids to school, drive them halfway and drop them off.

[00:37:02.650] – Speaker 2
I love some of those thoughts. Those are really, really, really helpful. So I wanted to get into the screen time. You started to give some really good tips there. Talk to us about the correlation between screen use and mental health. And as we come at it from the other end, it probably makes a lot of sense, but the more time we spend on screens, the less time we’re actually going to be spending being physical. So talk to us about the interaction of all these things and mental health and screens and physical activity, how it all intersects. How can we deepen that tension of trying to find more time active and less time locked into a screen?

[00:37:39.440] – Speaker 1
Yeah, absolutely. Happy to. As I mentioned earlier in the session, kids are currently engaging in high levels of screen use. T hat’s from ages from, if we look at the early years, so 0 to 4 all the way to kids of school age, kids as well as teens. It definitely is something that is very, very prevalent. Screens are just so omnipresent in everywhere that we are. You see them everywhere. It’s really hard to escape them. What’s becoming more of a concern from even a research perspective is that it’s no longer just single use screens, but multi screen. O ftentimes, sometimes it’s referred to as screen stacking. I’m guilty of it sometimes myself. I could be on the couch and I’m watching a movie, but I also have my laptop and I’m answering emails while I have my phone beside me and I might be texting. What impact does that have? Because it’s no longer just one screen. We’re looking at the impact of that has, and especially if we’re looking at on child development, on brains that are still continuing to develop. What does that mean? There’s been some really interesting research coming out by a researcher called Jenny Randesky looking at this idea called technoference.

[00:39:03.580] – Speaker 1
How does that impact parenting with children and having this increased screen use, not only among children and teens, but also parents themselves, adults themselves and being aware of how much time we’re spending on our screens or setting boundaries around screens or maybe limits at certain points throughout the day? Are these just set for the children? Are they else? Do we also set them for ourselves? And taking that little bit of an audit for how much time as a family are we spending using screens. And why we want to be cognizant of how much time we’re spending screens is that even independent of how active an individual is, someone who engages in high sedentary behaviors with screen use being the top sedentary behavior that we engage in next to how much time we spend sleeping, which is huge. If on average, the majority of people are sleeping 7 to 9 hours a day, we know the average adult spends about eight hours on a screen. Again, that obviously incorporates their work time. But if you think about then outside the confines of work, how often are you being exposed to a screen and how much time you’re spending?

[00:40:16.300] – Speaker 1
It’s very likely the same, if not more, is happening with children and youth today. What do we really want to focus on that is it’s not just always the screens themselves, it’s also the behaviors that we tend to engaging while we’re using the screen. O ften times we’re sitting, oftentimes we’re more likely to consume higher amounts of food than we would typically if we were just sitting at a table. And we’re more likely to gravitate towards drinks that are sugar sweetened or also foods or snacky foods that are a little bit higher in salt or fat or tend to be processed. So that’s something. And then it’s also the content of the screen. So is it educational versus… So are they learning a new skill? Is it teaching something? Is it purely for entertainment? Or then there, of course, it’s that added exposure. And this is something that definitely came through throughout the pandemic. And again, obviously, worst case scenario, there’s issues around more predatory behavior, of course. That’s always a concern for anyone using screens. But what we’ve definitely seen with screens is this higher consumption and this influence culture of either this fitspo.

[00:41:38.010] – Speaker 1
We’ve seen a huge increase throughout the pandemic, or at least a moderate increase in eating disorders or disordered eating among young people. Again, being that inundation of images of we need to look a certain way, we need to be thinner, smaller, fitter, bigger. Again, this isn’t just young girls that are being impacted, but young boys as well. It’s the anonymity of, say, online bullying. A lot of things that were being exposed to that just weren’t something that existed even 5, 10 years ago. As someone on the other side, well, how do you combat that? How do you put those certain restrictions on there? Those are certain things we have to talk about and start to find ways to come up with useful solutions. From also a mental health perspective, and again, throughout COVID, some colleagues and mine at Sick Kids Hospital, we ran a large study with four different cohorts of children throughout the GTA. And so it was a very like, thousands of kids were involved. And basically what we were doing was looking at the influence between screen use throughout COVID and mental health. And what we found that for children, even the zero to 4 all the way up to about 12 to 17 is that there definitely was an association with poor mental health and that it didn’t matter, even when we looked at online learning, is that it still ended up impacting negatively their overall mental health and wellness.

[00:43:16.030] – Speaker 1
In younger kids, we saw much greater issues around hyper activity and inattention the more time we spent on screens. As we started to get more to around age 12 all the way to 17, we started to see more issues around increases in low self esteem and symptoms related to depression and anxiety. And again, that had a lot to do with that living their lives through screens, that exposure to whatever that content would be. You’re not getting the same type of social interaction as we would have before that tend to be a lot deeper, more meaningful, and less superficial. And then with younger kids, we were also seeing some behavioral issues, so around conduct issues. Now with things starting to open back up, as I mentioned previously, screen use hasn’t really gone back to pre pandemic levels. It’s still quite high. And there is an addicting component to engaging in screen use. That’s so much about, especially social media, it’s all about those clicks. We want people to keep engaging with the content to keep coming back. And so it’s very hard to find a way to meaningfully intervene as a parent, as a health care provider in a way that can be long term.

[00:44:34.060] – Speaker 1
That’s something that currently on my end of things, we’re trying to find a way to do that. But one big step is us just recognizing and understanding that excessive screen use and everything above and beyond what the current recommendations are by the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiologists, as well as the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends the two hour daily limit. So one is knowing what the limits are. Two is taking that audit of what your kids do of just your family. I think us as adults, it’s important for us too. And secondly is try to find ways to make little tweaks. We don’t need to do it all at once, but small little tweaks. So again, having those screen free zones within the house, having discussions about the screen use, sitting with your kids, watching screen use. If it’s a movie, then especially with the younger kids, is there’s an opportunity to provide feedback or to ensure they’re understanding what they’re consuming. We’re having no screens in the bedroom is another great one. A gain, just small little changes, and we can start to then we can ramp it up. It’s the same with activity. It’s always we want to start small and just slowly creep it up.

[00:45:46.010] – Speaker 1
And then it’s more likely to become a habit and a behavior that sticks around. But definitely you can check out participation. Com for some added benefits and resources if you’re a parent, educator, or even if you’re just a curious person. That’s really helpful.

[00:46:01.660] – Speaker 2
I think, too, as you mentioned, you gave some really practical things about those steps to go through and offer, sit with kids and think about screens. But I think we can marry that advice back to some of the earlier advice about giving kids alternative things to do than screen time, too. These things go hand in hand as we’re thinking about offering more practical, do things as a family that are active, get outside, go for walks. These things happen at the same time. So that when we’re saying, hey, we’re going to limit screen time, in the other time, we’re offering and putting suggestions on the table about being more active and doing things that bring life and all the great benefits that we talked about earlier in this podcast. So we’re just trying to try to land the plane here, Lee, because there’s been so much great stuff that you’ve offered. So let’s assume as we’re listening, we’re like, okay, we want to help our kids be more active. We want to collectively bring this not so great, great, great on the physical movement report card up. But you know, as well as I do, sometimes with kids, we get some resistance.

[00:47:07.770] – Speaker 2
I know our daughter’s like, I am not going for a walk with you guys. So how do we talk to our kids and encourage activity? And you mentioned some resources, some things. Where can we point parents to give them some assistance and encouragement and help in helping our kids become more physically active?

[00:47:26.590] – Speaker 1
Yeah, absolutely. I think that was such a great summary, Chris. I think as a starting point, familiarize yourself with the 24 hours movement guidelines. You can find all of this information at participation. Com. Really for our organization, our main goal is to really serve as that go to resource for all things, physical activity and healthy screen use. We want to be that hub where if we’re not producing the content ourselves or generating that new knowledge, we are helping to direct you to the organizations, groups, and individuals that are already doing that great work and champion that work. Once you know what the guidelines are, we got to know what our baseline is. It’s a good starting point. Many of us aren’t even familiar or aware that such guidelines exist. That’s a great starting point. The second is going back to that original statement I had is, Something is better than nothing. More is always better. Try to take the physical activity outdoors as much as you can. Try to alter your family identity and put a stake in the ground. Be like, you know what? Physical activity is going to be something that we value.

[00:48:36.210] – Speaker 1
Even if we’re only doing a little bit, we don’t have to be the super all star super fit all the time. If you’re already doing that, great. But otherwise, find the joy in moving your bodies. Choose an activity that you enjoy. This goes for kids as well as parents. When it comes to physical activity, we want people to keep coming back to it, to repeating it. So if you’re not a gym person, don’t go to the gym. If you don’t like running, don’t run. Maybe it’s just walking. Maybe it’s gardening. Maybe it’s adding a little bit more vigor to your housework that you’re doing every day. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. Find ways to creatively sneak it in. Look at your typical day schedule. Look at your kid’s typical schedule and just pick one spot where you could creatively sneak in just a few more steps and start from there. Start small, incrementally move up, whether you’re adding more distance, maybe a little bit of an incline or stairs, as you mentioned, that you always take the stairs whenever possible. Make those little rules for yourself. Just again, try to find ways that you can move your body a little bit every day.

[00:49:44.910] – Speaker 1
And in addition to that is also be mindful of how much time you’re spending in front of screens or just sitting and being sedentary. Of course, when I say sitting, I realize 100 % that this is fully not an option for some individuals if you are dealing with certain mobility issues or disability. But again, equally important for all individuals to be mindful of how much time they’re being sedentary. And so finding ways that you can still move your body because we don’t want to just be cognizant of how much we’re moving, but we also want to ensure that we’re finding ways to limit sedentary behaviors on the daily as well.

[00:50:19.850] – Speaker 2
I am going to transfer to my stand up desk this afternoon to do exactly what you’re suggesting. But great encouragement. Again, I think often we try to offer a whole bunch of resources for parents. But I think a simple thing, if you’re listening to this and you’re like, Okay, this has been really inspiring, challenging, encouraging, all these things, participation. Com is a great place because there’s so many, like you said, research and programs and ideas for parents to get going. And I think that would be an amazing start. So just as we wrap up, any final thoughts or words of encouragement? You’ve offered so many great things just to parents as they take this and go, Okay, let’s do something about it. What can you encourage us when it comes to the physical activity of our kids?

[00:51:13.540] – Speaker 1
The first thing I’d say is don’t be so hard on yourself. I think as a parent, you want to do anything and everything for your kids to ensure that they’re being provided with all the opportunities and being set out on that ideal trajectory and you’re giving them that foundation. So to take some time to take some pause, obviously, especially with the pandemic and things that continue to ensue and depending on personal situations or circumstances, there’s a lot going on. Many parents are juggling a million different balls, and the idea of just adding one more thing to that ever growing to do list can be very daunting. But one thing I’d like to offer is that oftentimes we think of physical activity as a nice to have rather than a need to have. And the more that we can find ways to integrate a little bit more movement into our days, not only for our children’s sake, but for our own personal health, this is going to make an immense impact on our overall just wellbeing and just in general. It’s not just for the health reasons, whether it’s physical, mental, and it’s not just for, Oh, I should get active now so that I’ll age well.

[00:52:25.960] – Speaker 1
While that’s certainly important, it’s not necessarily enough to get a teenager active, like, Oh, do it now so I’ll be a healthy 80 year old. You need something a little bit more. But realizing it’s going to make you a better student. It’s going to make you a better parent because you’re going to be less stressed. You’re going to sleep better. You’re going to have more energy to tackle the stuff that you need to get done throughout the day. The more that we move our bodies, young girls are going to have more self confidence, better self worth, which is something that what wouldn’t we want for any individual and particularly for young girls as they’re navigating adolescents as we know it today. Move for all those other added reasons above and beyond what we typically tend to associate physical activity and really start to consider it as a vital part of everyday living. But I can’t stress enough, start slow. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, three times a week, start that. Monitor your progress and work up from there. Try to make it a family activity. And so it’s something that you value as a family together.

[00:53:27.760] – Speaker 1
That’s really helpful.

[00:53:29.290] – Speaker 2
Very practical advice. I know for me personally, that’s always a challenge. When I get into something, I’m like, I’m going to do this five times a week, and then you don’t, and then you just feel like you give up. But if you start modestly and build it in, then you get some success. You feel more confident in it, and you realize, actually, I can do this. T hat encourages into that. Exactly. Man, Lee, what a great conversation today. I think the best way for me to wrap it up is to actually steal participation slogan to say everything gets better when you get active. That’s to me that big synopsis of what I’ve heard today. And as we go, I will leave everybody with what I have in my head from How and Joanne, which is keep fit and have fun. That’s what I always remember for the BodyBreak. So thanks for the conversation today. What an encouragement and appreciate all the work you’re doing and the things that you offered to us as parents and people who care about you. So thanks for your time today. Thank you so much for.

[00:54:30.100] – Speaker 1
Having me. It was a pleasure speaking with you, Chris, and learning more about all the great work that your organization do. A living example of being a champion in this space, so thank you.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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