Children need physical activity

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2020

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By Nathan Rice

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon with sunny skies and a temperature of a little over 70 degrees. We picked up lunch at a fast-food restaurant and stopped at a small park in Portsmouth to enjoy a picnic before heading to our destination — The South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.

The South Norfolk Jordan Bridge rises above the Elizabeth River and connects the cities of Portsmouth and Chesapeake. A pedestrian walkway stretches across the length of the bridge, providing a one-mile walk from one city to the other and beautiful views of the Elizabeth River and the surrounding areas.

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We parked near the bridge and embarked on our journey over the Elizabeth River. The 13-year-old saw the incline of the bridge, which the city of Chesapeake describes as a “healthy 5% grade,” and let out a scream before asking, “Why are we doing this again?”

We walked from one side of the bridge to the other, but there were several times that we needed to stop as the 13-year-old complained of burning thighs, tired legs and an aching back. I didn’t doubt her complaints, because I know that she rarely goes outside and that exercise of any type isn’t a part of her life.

I am glad she completed the walk, but I was saddened by the fact that a healthy 13-year-old could not walk that distance without numerous breaks. This healthy 13-year-old should have had no trouble keeping up with her 12-year-old brother and 40-year-old chaperone, but her lack of physical activity made this relatively simple exercise difficult for her to complete.

The health benefits of physical activity are undeniable. However, our culture is largely sedentary, and this lifestyle has transitioned to our children. Many children and youth spend large portions of their days indoors sitting in front of the television, holding a phone or pressing buttons on a gaming controller. Indoor activities and games are fine, but we must not forget the need for physical activity.

Children who are not drawn to physical activity on their own may need to be forced to get up and get active. Parents can require that children spend a certain period each day or each week doing something of a physical nature. These times can be, and should be, fun and enjoyable for children.

Younger children can play outside when weather permits. This allows children to use their imagination and learn about the world around them while physically active. Children of all ages may enjoy a trip to the park, a hike through a nature trail, or a stroll along the beach. Everyone — children and adults — can take walks in the neighborhood or work together on lawn care. There are countless ways to stay active.

These times of physical activity also provide an excellent opportunity for them to spend time with family and friends away from electronics. Great conversations can be had when playing catch with a football or walking in the park.

It’s important to ensure that children are remaining physically active. The health benefits, both physical and mental, have been proven time and time again.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at