There is no doubt that iPads, televisions, phones and tablets are a God-send when it comes to calming/entertaining the kids.
But with an increased focus on how much ‘screen time’ we should be getting, and no specific guidelines, it’s easy to become confused and worry about where to draw the line.
There are no official guidelines, because nobody really knows the answer. But what you need to answer is: is your family getting enough exercise, sleep and nutrition?
No child is exempt from exercise – even new born babies should regularly be moving to ensure they maintain a healthy body.
If babies aren’t mobile yet, they should still be active throughout the day, and encouraged to reach, grasp, pull, push and move their whole body during floor play and tummy time. There is a growing trend for Mums n Baby classes both in the swimming pool and studios so it’s worth checking what your leisure provider offers.
Most toddlers appear to have endless energy. But with tablets and TVs having the power to placate even the ‘busiest’ children, there’s a risk they could spend too much time sitting still.
Toddlers should be active for at least three hours a day, enjoying a mix of light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic movements like running and jumping.
Plenty of leisure and community centres run sessions specifically designed for toddlers, which will be particularly useful if you are finding it hard to tempt them away from their screens.
Primary school children
Once a child gets to primary school age the intensity of the activities they do each day should increase.
For at least one hour a day, children should enjoy a mixture of moderate and vigorous activity. This could be playing chase, riding a scooter, dancing, swimming, running, skateboarding, football, rugby, martial arts or whatever will get them moving – the idea is to get their hearts pumping.
Three times a week children in this age group should also undertake exercise to build strong muscles, such as swinging on equipment bars, gymnastics, yoga, rock climbing, tennis and tree climbing. However, they should stay away from resistance exercises like sit ups, press ups or using weights until they have hit puberty.
Secondary school children
It can be hard to motivate teenagers to get moving, but it’s important that they should still do at least an hour of exercise a day – again a mixture of moderate, vigorous and muscle strengthening activity.
At this age, children can start to exercise in a highly-structured way, which means competitive, coach-led sports like tennis and swimming can become more focussed and challenging. While team sports will attract many teens, others may prefer to exercise alone or as a family, so walking or going on a bike ride could be a better option.
Woe betide anyone who tries to prise a teenager away from their gadgets, so why not look at where you can mix technology with activity. This could be using a fitness tracker to measure their success, technology-based outdoors activities like geo-cashing, or online exercise videos/programmes they find interesting (and follow, not just watch!).
It’s not just the kids who are glued to their screens. As adults we know we can all be guilty of trawling through social media for hours after work, or binge-watching videos of cats.
According to the NHS, anyone aged between 19 and 64 should do a mixture of aerobic and strength training exercises for at least 150 minutes a week – or 30 minutes a day.
This can be a mixture of moderate exercises such as cycling or brisk walking, or vigorous aerobic activity such as running or playing tennis. Strength training activities include lifting weights, working with your body’s resistance, yoga and heavy gardening.
Activities such as rugby, running, football, netball and circuit training all include a mixture of aerobic and muscle strengthening activity, killing two birds with one stone.
With age comes a whole list of aches and pains. But whether you’re suffering from chronic conditions or just the typical symptoms of ageing, you should still be moving as much as possible.
Movement encourages a healthy heart and bones, a reduced risk of falling, and a healthy mind. Exercise also protects from life-limiting diseases like certain cancers, diabetes, COPD and heart disease, and slows cognitive decline.
Like younger and middle-aged adults, older people need to do a mix of cardio and strengthening exercises. Your local gym, a personal trainer, GP or the NHS website will be able to help you with the best way to move safely as you age.
Screening your health
The more time we spend on our screens, the less time we’re likely to be spending moving and exercising. Too much screen time can also affect our sleeping and can cause us to snack more. Both things that aren’t great for our family’s overall health!
If you, and your family, are meeting the Government’s guidelines for moving, a bit of screen time can be a good way to relax. However, if you’re spending more time on your screens than moving, it’s time to make some changes.