As adults, we are constantly reminded of the benefits of good nutrition, being more active and leading a generally healthier existence. In a world that is designed for sedentary convenience – a social condition seemingly amplified by life in the UAE – we must consciously recreate our habits in order to forge healthier ones.
Yet as much as we owe it to ourselves to live healthy and reap the benefits, we have a bigger onus on our shoulders to think about; that of the next generation – the children whose health and wellbeing habits are, to a very large extent, shaped by the very conditions we provide and habits we instil in them and which could change the trajectory for the next generation.
As the Regional Champion for Designed to Move, a global framework for addressing what they call a ‘physical inactivity epidemic’ among today’s children (released by Nike at the CGI 2012), I am alarmed by statistics that paint a dire picture. Not only are today’s 10 year olds the first generation expected to have a 5 year shorter life expectancy than their parents, but this year, 5.3 million deaths will be attributed to physical inactivity – more than that attributable to smoking. Closer to home, 30% of UAE children between 6 and 16 years are overweight while 20% of the population suffer from diabetes, one of the highest in the globe.
Physical inactivity among children has become normal and it is too important to not address the structures and foundation from which they draw the blueprints for their adult lives. Not just their adult bodies, but their adult, character, emotional resilience and social skills.
So how and where do we address the problem?
Looking at the school system, sports, physical activity and physical education are seen as optional or extra-curricular, rather than the powerful investments that they are. Academically, a number of research studies substantiate that children need sufficient amounts of physical activity a day not only to prevent obesity and its related issues, but to improve their performance in the classroom and socially as well. In addition to the proven positive physical and mental health impact of being active, there is a strong belief that regular participation in physical activity is linked to greater brain function and cognition.
The science is clear. Physical activity does more than create good health. It contributes to leadership, productivity and innovation. It unleashes human potential, and this is what drives economies forward.
During school years, the value of health and fitness needs to be embedded in each student. Let’s work on launching a standard PE guideline in all schools, standardized and consistent across the Region, and look at a bigger picture working with parents, school management, teachers and coaches. Let’s leverage key local athletes and coaches to motivate and inspire young people. Let’s engage and activate students in inspirational fitness events such as the Dubai Fitness Championship, as we did last year where 40 students assisted in athlete liaison and backroom help.
Within the school, let’s create more positive physical activity class to kids 7-12 years olds! In my experience working in GCC schools and more locally in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it can be observed that the aspect of FUN has been removed from Physical Education lessons. According to UK statistics, only 20% of young people enjoy traditional, competitive sport. 50% of young people would participate more if they felt the playing field was leveled and that they were able to happily try new, innovative and creative activities such as parkour, calisthenics, zumba, trampolining, martial arts, climbing and jumping.
Most importantly, parents need to make a concerted effort at providing fun games and activities and work as a family to encourage an active lifestyle. While kids may need a nudge from mum and dad to get into the habit, care should be taken to not make it seen as a “chore”. While leading by example is a great start, with kids of active parents tending to uphold the same habits into adolescence, a better strategy when it comes to getting children to move is to get them to appreciate being active and see it as a fun, positive thing!
These are habits can stick around into adulthood and deliver benefits that reach far beyond the physical. Not only is it good for them and their future - it is crucial.
WE ARE DESIGNED TO MOVE
By Gillian Brunton, Managing Director of InnerG Solutions FZE
Gillian Brunton set up InnerG Solutions in 2013 following successful roles in professional football and Partnership Management of 82 schools in Central London. She is currently championing the framework of 'Designed to Move' campaign released by Nike in 2012, whilst also working alongside some of the biggest organisations in the Middle East and guest speaking at conferences around the globe.
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Follow InnerG Solutions on Twitter: @Innergise
First Published in Fit Factor Magazine