The importance of daily exercise in attaining and maintaining human health is gaining more evidence by the day. With childhood obesity on the rise, American medical media are devoting increased attention to the challenge of getting kids moving and keeping them active. The National Football League's "Play60" campaign is just part of the solution to the problem of sedentary children, and is based on the premise that children should engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.
The medical science is clear: moderate to vigorous physical activity is inversely associated with body fat in children. But how can one encourage children to engage in enough physical activity to make a difference? Change can start at home, with something as simple as walking to the store instead of taking the car or the bus. British researchers have found that children whose mothers used "active transport" rather than inactive transport for short trips had higher levels of physical activity than those whose mothers did the reverse. Friends are important, too: the video attached to this article shows how having an active friend makes a child more likely to be active himself.
For nine months of the year, however, children spend more than six hours per day in an institutional setting: school. For many children, extended care before and after school means they are away from home for ten to twelve hours per weekday. Employers such as Wegmans have recognized that physical activity during the workday is an important part of building a healthy workforce, and have implemented "micro stretch breaks" throughout the day, announced over the stores' public address systems.
NFL Play60 has developed a toolkit, in partnership with the American Heart Association, to help teachers incorporate fitness and activity into the school day. Something as simple as having students do dance steps for five minutes before a classroom test to work off anxiety can be part of giving kids 30 minutes a day of activity, leaving only 30 more for after school.
Finally, it may be that America has underestimated the importance of recess. Research published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health shows that teen boys are likely to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity during recess. "Recess in Spanish high schools may contribute to the daily MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] for adolescents," the scientists conclude, "but greater efforts must be implemented to increase PA [physical activity] levels among adolescent girls during this school period."