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Image courtesy of Virgin Active

Excessive screen time can harmful for children, leading to health concerns and socialisation issues. We explain how to counterbalance this with physical activity, especially swimming.

We understand that entertaining children during the school holidays, especially the summer holidays, can be a challenge. It is tempting to let them just binge-watch TV or play games on their X-box or laptop, but when screen time leads to children foregoing physical activity, it is detrimental to their wellbeing. Too much sedentary time and inadequate exercise is an immediate contributor to health concerns like childhood obesity, poor sleep and weakened cardiometabolic health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting recreational screen time for children and teens to an hour, less for under-5s, and none at all for babies under two.

Find advice on how to parent in a world of screens.

benefits of physical activity

Cath Coupar, Virgin Active South Africa’s head of family experiences, says: “The benefits of exercise like sports and swimming are multifaceted, spanning physical, mental, emotional and social realms, laying the foundation for an engaged, fulfilling life.”

Regular exercise and movement, she adds, provide enormous developmental, physical, and mental benefits for growing chidlren, especially those aged 3–13 years.

“Physical activity throughout childhood helps build bone, muscle and joint strength while improving co-ordination and movement skills. Mentally, it boosts socialisation, learning capabilities, attention spans, memory, and even academic performance.”

how much exercise?

WHO research shows that for optimal health outcomes, children aged 5–17 should try to do an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity almost every day. At least three days each week, children should engage in muscle and bone-strengthening exercises, such as a team sport, or other high-intensity aerobic activity.

“Regular exercise is crucial in ensuring children’s robust physical development while they’re growing,” Coupar says.

swimming – a full-body activity

“Swimming is the ideal exercise, providing the full-body aerobic activity children need,” Coupar explains. “Swimming helps them realise that exercising doesn’t have to be boring. It can be an adventure.”

so much more than just exercise

Beyond its fitness benefits, swimming is a crucial life skill and a fun activity. Swimming ability equips children with vital water-safety knowledge

Statistics released by the National Sea Rescue Institute show that only about 15% of South Africans can swim. Drowning is one of the most common causes of unnatural death worldwide, and in South Africa, an average 450 young lives are lost to drowning each year.

Read more about keeping children safe in the water.

Many health clubs, gyms and private swim schools offer swimming lessons and learn-to-swim programmes. Many of these offer heated pools, which means swimming doesn’t have to be summer time only activity.

Read our article on swimming throughout the year.

“Remember, physically active children become healthy teens, then thriving adults,” Coupar concludes.