How Being Active and Limiting Inactivity Differ

kids leaving school

This article was first published on El Paso Inc. on September 26, 2018


We all know how important it is to be physically active, but did you know that it is just as important – or maybe more so – to limit physical inactivity?

Wait, isn’t that the same thing? Not quite.

Physical activity refers to the kinds of activities that get your heart rate up and make you sweat – at least a little. Typical examples include running, walking at least 4 miles per hour and other activities of similar intensity (dancing, swimming, cycling, etc.)

 Physical inactivity, or sedentary time, includes watching TV, playing video games and using other electronics.
For kids, it is important to remember all types of inactivity during their days – not only screen time, but sitting during school, riding in a car and non-active socializing with friends.

We have known for a long time that daily physical activity (at least 30 minutes for adults and 60 minutes for kids) is best for health. As it turns out, it is also important to limit those sedentary activities. In fact, one study found that the negative effect of six to seven hours of sitting was similar to the beneficial effect of one hour of moderate exercise.

Fitness levels are not only important for health in adults and kids, but have also been linked to performance on tests in elementary school children.

Cartoon Characters Active Kids Clouds Rainbow

Also, kids who have more vigorous activity outside of school have been shown to perform better in their classes.

One study showed that when kids walked for 20 minutes prior to taking a test, they had better attention and performed better on standardized tests compared to when they remained inactive prior to testing.

What can teachers and principals do?

• Ensure kids get recess at least once a day every day, but more is better.

• Make school playgrounds available before and after school.

• Use brain break activities throughout the day to encourage kids to get up and move in the classroom.

• Plan lessons that can be done while moving around the classroom or using outdoor space.

• During standardized testing days, ensure kids have opportunities to be active throughout the day.

What can parents do?

• Walk your child to school instead of driving (they just might do better on that test!).

• Do not put a television in your child’s bedroom – studies show this leads to more inactivity.

• Have rules about screen time – research shows that without parental rules, kids are more inactive.

• Encourage kids to participate in sports and other active pastimes. Make sure these are enjoyable – forcing your child to participate in an activity they dislike could lead to life-long avoidance of physical activity.

• Plan family time around fun physical activities.

Leah Whigham is a nutrition and obesity scientist and executive director of the Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living at UTEP.

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Contact the Center for Community Health Impact | 915-975-8518 | Veronica.Rodriguez.1@uth.tmc.edu