Study Advises Children Drop Joystick and Play


Back away from the Nintendo, kid, and go out and play.

Children ought to play hard for at least an hour and possibly several hours every day, according to the first physical activity guidelines drawn specifically for elementary school-age children.

At the least, children should spend one half-hour in moderate activity on most days, based on the recommendations of the National Assn. for Sport and Physical Education, a professional group of physical education teachers, coaches and exercise scientists.

The association wants to give preteens a base of healthful exercise that may steer them clear of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease that afflict adult couch potatoes.


“Children who expend calories when they are young are more likely to do so later in life,” the report said. Those who are inactive as kids are likely to continue to be slugs when they get older, it said.

Although other groups have drawn sport-specific guidelines for preteen activity, this is the first to look at the big picture, said Judith Young, the group’s executive director.

The guidelines are not asking too much, Young said. Researchers have found children watching 17 hours of TV a week; a little of that time could go toward physical activity, she said.

And Young isn’t against all TV. “Some kids climb over the back of the sofa, so you could be doing some activity and watching TV, and we would encourage that,” she said.


“The computer is more deadly in that regard,” Young said. “You can’t usually play on the Internet or play Nintendo without sitting still and managing your joystick.”

Parents who keep their children heavily scheduled with organized sedentary activities such as piano or computer lessons ought to adjust their priorities to make physical activity part of a child’s life, Young said.

Many kids miss that, one girl commented. “They might want to play more, but their moms might not be able to sign them up for as much stuff,” said Hannah Prince, 9, of Herndon, Va. “I kinda do. I do different sports and stuff. I think it’s healthy. And a lot of fun.”

It would be good if parents could just send the kids out to play, but today’s parents don’t, said pediatrician Ivor Horn of Washington. Some parents are afraid of what could happen to children outside; others are working and don’t want their children unattended, she said.


Although the recommendations may look like kid-sized versions of typical ideals for adults, the association’s proposals are tailored to children’s needs, the report said.

Young children have a natural tendency to be considerably more active than adults, the report said. The plunge toward adult-style lethargy doesn’t begin until the teenage years.

Children also should get more variety than the regular routine of walking, weight training or aerobics that characterizes much adult exercise, the report said.

One reason is that adults generally stick with the sports and athletic skills they learned as children, so adults who were shortchanged as kids are less likely to pick up the skills later, it said.


This could be a big problem for today’s video generation. “For children nowadays, video games have been around all their lives,” Horn said. She added that some lack appreciation of what active play is like.

Another reason for varied activities is children’s well-known distaste for doing anything for long. “Children have a relatively short attention span compared to adults,” the study said.

Well-meaning coaches may not realize this, Young said: “I see lots of T-ball practice with a lot of kids standing around in the outfield, picking grass. They’re bored.”

And children generally lack the physiological ability to exercise continuously, as adults can. A child’s normal pattern is to go at something full force and then stop to rest. So children should aim to accumulate their playtime in 10- to 15-minute bursts of moderate to vigorous activity, the report said.


Playground equipment works well for kids. Most of their time should be in activities such as climbing, tumbling and other things that have few rules and little formal organization, the group recommended. Children also can be involved in sports, biking, running and flexibility exercises.

The association’s Council for Physical Education for Children, which wrote the report, said a lot of playtime should take place in school physical education classes. And teachers should focus on developing each child’s individual gifts, because this will encourage the children to make exercise a lifetime habit, it said.