What will kids do for exercise this summer now that school is out and there’s no recess, physical education, or sports?
Well, some kids, maybe the kids who play sports in school, join summer baseball, softball, or soccer leagues. Some may take swimming lessons and go to the neighborhood pool. Some will ride bikes or go to the playground. Some will just run around the neighborhood.
And some will do nothing except play on the computer or other tech devices, adding to their BMI over the next ten weeks.
Remember the Wii fitness games put out by Nintendo a few years ago? They were touted as a great way for adults and kids to exercise at home without even going outside. And it was fun to make your avatar mirror your movements in tennis, bowling, or exercise workouts. Unfortunately, the novelty soon wore off.
It turns out that so-called “exergames” never lived up to their promise of getting couch potatoes up and moving. According to a study by the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, active video games did little to change the sedentary life style of either kids or adults.
The Baylor research team distributed Wii games and consoles to households with kids ages 9-12 who were overweight. One group of kids had to choose physically demanding games; the other group chose popular games that required no activity. After 13 weeks the researchers found no difference between the two groups in terms of physical improvement. While the first group of kids actually played the active games, they compensated for the activity by reducing other physical activities during the day.
Says Dr. Charles T. Cappetta of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, “It may seem that active video games are an easy solution to getting kids off the couch. But as this study and others show, they do no such thing.” Instead, real sports played outside “remain the gold standard to get cardiovascular benefit,” he says.
There was a time when many elementary schools had outside summer programs. The school or maybe the local community would hire for minimum wage a playground monitor, usually a junior or senior in high school or a college student, who helped kids organize games and sports for the entire summer. The summer programs cut down on vandalism and gave kids something to do and someplace to go. There was no snack bar. Usually one door of the school was opened so kids could get a drink of water. Even today it’s still a cheap fix for kids’ inactivity and boredom during the summer.
As we pour millions of dollars into testing and academic programs that produce the same old results, we continue to ignore the research on the importance of kids being physically active. Tell your kids: Turn off the computer and go outside.