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Column originally published Aug 25, 2015

Importance Of Exercise

Question: We have a nine-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old son. Our son is addicted to video games. If we allow him, he can play it non-stop and forget to eat or sleep. Our daughter is catching up on this quickly. I know exercise is important for children, but I don’t know how to motivate him. He used to enjoy biking and swimming. Please give us your advice.


Video games have become one of the most serious threat to children’s health in the last one to two decades.  Advances in computer technology have allowed game designers to produce ever more attractive and addictive games that capture our children’s interest that it is hard for them to stop.  Many parents face the same challenge that you are describing here; the solution is unfortunately harder than one anticipates.

Exercise is important for everyone, not only for children, but also for adults and seniors.  It increases our heart rate, pumps more blood to our muscles and all essential organs in our body, including the brain.  This brings more oxygen from the lungs to every organ and cell in the body.  Research has shown that exercise is not only important for our physical health, but also benefit our mental health.  It can improve attention span of children, and help those who have depression.

Parents can do a lot to increase children’s physical activity after school, on weekends, and during summer holidays.  It is not enough to sign your children up for ice hockey or soccer.  There may be a few practice sessions or one to two games a week.  They need to stay physically active more of the time instead of idling in front of the computer or playing video games.

The best way is to engage them in activities that they can do on most days.  Depending on their ability and interest, walking, jogging, running, and biking are good for the whole family.  It is important that parents set an example and go out with them to enjoy these activities together.  Make sure everyone put on the helmet before getting on the bike.  If your children are interested in swimming, many communities have swimming pools that the whole family can enjoy.  They can even enrol in swim clubs that encourage competitive swimming.

Summertime is great for outdoor activities.  Make sure everyone use sun protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses.  Drink lots of water on hot sunny days to prevent dehydration, and get into the shade when it is too hot.

Unfortunately, we have long and cold winters in Canada.  Parents have to plan for activities during winter time.  If your family enjoys skiing and snowboarding, that is great.  But, there are still days when the weather is too severe for anything outdoor.  Plan indoor activities like swimming, bowling, squash, tennis, whatever that is available in your community.  Also get ready some family games at home for those storm days.

It is not possible to completely avoid video games; but you can set rules and boundaries.  Research has shown that children should have no more than one to two hours a day in front of any screen, the less the better.  The light from these screens can affect sleep; therefore, they should be off one hour before bedtime.  Don’t allow any portable electronics in children’s bedroom or living room.  Bring them into your room at night for charging, so that they cannot use them while you are sleeping.  This is especially important when they have gadgets that they can text with friends.  This can keep them awake at night.  Children should not have TV in their room, this will not help them to fall sleep.

If you can follow the suggestions that is outlined here, you will reduce conflict in your family, increase your children’s physical activity, and improve their physical and mental health.