I read something recently that as a dad I found quite troubling, albeit not so surprising at the same time. There’s been a significant concern among the scientific and medical communities over the last ten years or more, with alarming studies that project this latest generation will be the first not to live as long as their parents’ generation—as much as five years less. A number of factors are involved, and often childhood obesity is the principle component indicated in these studies. The studies show that North Carolina is ranked 11th in obesity and that 56% of North Carolinians don’t get enough activity in their daily lives. However, I don’t think you have to be a scientist to understand that obesity is not the only cause of this potential decline in longevity.
Studies show a decline in activity gradually occurs as children get older. For instance, Christy Zwolski, PT, DPT, and Derek Roylance, PT, DPT, both with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, report that at age 9 boys generally get moderate-to-vigorous activity 190 minutes a day and girls 170 minutes. Yet by age 15, that number drops to 60 minutes a day for boys (68% decline) and 30 minutes for girls (82% decline). Both therapists explain a concept called the physical-literacy cycle, where “desire and motivation lead to participation. Participation leads to ability. Ability leads to confidence, which in turn reinforces desire and motivation.” What’s even more surprising is by age 13, while boys’ confidence remains consistent, the girls’ confidence level declines significantly. They indicate that as girls get older, their performance “lags further behind boys,” as they begin to “disassociate physical activity with happiness.”
Another contributor to the decline in activity is how the immense use of video gaming systems and smartphones has become embedded in our culture. The result is, children of all shapes and sizes have one unique thing in common—most are simply not moving around enough in their lives. The youths’ more sedentary lifestyle is proving to have a profound impact on their projected life expectancy.
Where this generation lacks in physical activity, they make up in intellect, as many display a unique and uncanny ability with problem-solving and critical thinking skills in ways older generations never had to. Those same gaming systems require users to crack codes and solve mysteries and more, in order to advance further. The games require focus, imagination, and analysis to maneuver through the countless labyrinths and obstacles that stand in their way. Therefore, their minds may actually be healthier and stronger, perhaps, than earlier generations at this younger age in their lives; nonetheless, when it comes to the physical fitness aspect the story changes. And that part is essential to living a long and healthy life.
There are innovative developments on the horizon, however, that could begin to change this phenomenon. For example, technology in the virtual-reality realm is emerging rapidly. As this technology advances to a more cost-affordable option for the majority of users, it will provide players in and of itself the opportunity to physically interact with the virtual world they’re playing in, versus just sitting on the couch and pressing buttons. That’s good news! In addition, games such as the Pokémon Go craze are tremendous examples of technology incentivizing children to get outside and move about more, as they race from one location to another in search of the fictional, animated Pokémon characters.
Studies suggest that sedentary parents tend to lead to more sedentary children. Therefore, with the increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and more for this next generation, it’s clear we need to do all we can to find newer and better ways to get moving, regardless of our age. Whether that’s through innovation, or simply finding some physical activity you love to do and then making a point to participate in this and other activities each week. As parents, we can begin by setting an example and hopefully, the combination of the possibilities mentioned, among newer alternatives, will lead to a change, including a more active and healthy lifestyle for future generations to follow. After all, our children’s future clearly depends on it.