Study Reveals the Key to Keeping Kids Healthy and Avoiding Obesity This Summer

Researchers say encouraging your kids to catch more zzz's this summer is just as important as exercising — here's why.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Photo by: Blend Images - Inti St Clair

Blend Images - Inti St Clair

With the lazy days of summer right around the corner, many parents are getting nervous that their kids will be a little too idle without school and activities. However, a new study says that more sleep is actually a good trade-off for keeping kids active. While you still want to make sure your kids are moving and grooving, you can feel a little better about them catching those extra zzz's.

Researchers from the University of South Australia wanted to find the optimal balance between children's physical activity, their sleep, and sedentary time during a 24-hour day, so parents could be more informed about how to structure their child's day.

For the study, researchers examined 1,179 children between the ages of 11 and 12 years old and recorded their BMI, waist girth, body fat, and had the children fill out a survey on their mental well-being. They found that even though exercise had a greater and faster impact on physical health and well-being, the kids in the study were able to achieve the same 7.4 percent reduction in BMI by doing at least one of the following activities:

  • Exercising 17 more minutes (moderate-to-vigorous exercise)
  • Sleeping an extra 52 minutes
  • Reducing their sitting or sedentary time by an extra 56 minutes

Researchers added that kids may significantly improve their mental health by doing at least one of the following activities:

  • Exercising 35 minutes more (moderate-to-vigorous exercise)
  • Sleeping an extra 68 minutes
  • Reducing their sitting or sedentary time by 54 minutes

"International guidelines suggest that children need 9-11 hours' sleep, 60 minutes of physical exercise, and no more than two hours of recreational screen time per day, yet only seven percent of children are regularly meeting these goals," says Dr. Dumuid, lead researcher of the study. "With so many competing priorities and commitments, it's helpful to know which activities deliver the greatest 'bang for your buck.'"

For busy families, it can be hard to make sure their kids are getting the right balance of activity, sleep, and free time. So, researchers hope this study will help parents think about their day-to-day schedules. While kids should be outside riding their bikes, swimming, or participating in some sort of physical activity, getting kids to bed earlier so they can get a full night's rest is also important for their physical and mental health.

"Exploring trade-offs between children's activities is a promising way for families to make healthy choices that suit their regular family schedule," says Dr. Dumuid. Since being a parent is all about being flexible, researchers hope this study will give parents a break from feeling guilty about their busy schedules.

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