Using screen time to encourage physical activity

Written by Dr. Tejal Kanwar
Published: October 26, 2022
Gynecologist and obstetrician with expertise in Adolescent Health. Founder of Kleinetics Fitness, a leading tech enabled kids fitness program. Winner of the best physical education and sports education program by The Indian Education Awards 2020.

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As parents in today’s world, we know that using technology is beneficial, but we also know that a physically active life is really important. 

We surely had a far more physically active childhood than our kids have today. Kids’ activities seem to have increased as their schedules are packed and so are their sedentary behaviours thanks to all the comforts being provided to them and also due to the ease of technology in all walks of our lives.

Types of screen-time behaviours & their effects on kids

  • Sedentary screen-time behaviour refers to the time spent on screen-based technology which affects the brain development of children in non-productive ways and enhances negative behaviours.
  • Recreational screen-time sedentary behaviour is defined as the time spent using a screen-based device (e.g. smartphone, tablet, computer, television) as a source of entertainment. For example- playing video games, watching television, listening music, etc.
  • Active screen time is the time spent on screens with movements involved. Since we cannot entirely cut off the use of technology by children, this is probably the best use of screen time which not only involves plenty of learning for kids but also encourages them to work on their physical health and mental well-being.

Why physical activity matters?

Moving around, playing sports and getting physically challenged is important for every kid’s energy levels, physical development, sleep, and even for superior academic performances. 

Evidence suggests that physical activity and screen time behaviours are established in early childhood. Kids who develop healthy activity patterns early in life are already on a trajectory towards healthy and fit lifestyle throughout life.

Sometimes screen time can mean children sit still for too long without a break. But it is not necessary for things to be this way – you can use screen time to get your kid moving.

There are a range of things that can be done to allow technology to empower kids to get physically active. Wondering how?

Well, making exercise & workouts as exciting as a video game would be an added benefit to endorphins being released into your children’s brains because of the physical activity. This hormone is responsible for making one feel positive, happy, and good in a way that digital activities never could!

There are several videos and  apps that can encourage children to dance, do yoga, learn martial arts and a lot more. Also, there are many gaming consoles that encourage them to do sports simulations and get them moving.

Here are some fun easy ways to introduce physical activity that kids can do during their screen time:

  • Video shoot your child learning a brand new talent like hopping, riding a bicycle, or doing a new skateboard trick. Replay the video so that the child can appreciate what they have learnt and enjoy watching themselves and get better too
  • Choose videos or apps that encourage your child to sing and dance, learn workout games or try some virtual sports simulators.
  • Bring alive your kid’s screen time interests. For instance, your kid could dress up as their favourite TV character and act like them
  • Advertisements or breaks during TV time can be utilised  to encourage movement. For instance, you could challenge to see the number of star jumps you and your kid can finish before the ads finish.
  • Leave behind the usual route and use a digital map instead to plan a walk with your kid.
  • Take photos of things on the walk and make a photo album out of it

Parents as a role model 

What you do and say hugely impacts your kid’s behaviour and attitude.

Here are some ways in which you can become a role model to your kid for combining screen usage and time with physical activity:

  • Smart phones & watches are the new-age gadgets which informs the user about the minimum steps & physical activity required in a day to stay fit. Challenge your kids to track their time & calories spent in a day. Keep motivating them to increase their daily calorie spent in order to stay physically fit.
  • Include your kid in your online yoga sessions. This way they can be further motivated to try digital dance, zumba or aerobic classes.
  • Go creative with virtual marathons, kidathons and juniorthon. You can have a three-legged race, a one-legged race, a crab walk race, etc.
  • Obstacle course with online friends: It’s an exciting way to exercise. Include adding some furniture and drawing out a track with multiple challenges that takes them out of the house. 
  • Challenge them to imitate animals by adopting their movements. Moves like kangaroo kick boxing, frog squats or ape walking are some examples which can promote physical activity in kids.
  • Get your children some hula hoops and start practicing this fun activity with them. There are lots of online videos that will help you master this exercise.

Quick tips

Here are a few tips you have to keep in mind while getting kids to exercise as it isn’t the easiest job.

Schedule it right

Make sure to pick a certain time in the day that is suitable for everyone.

Reward progress

Keep a track of all the exercises completed and even chart out the exercise-related achievements made by the kids and have a small monthly reward for the kid or family member with the most achievements.

Get your kid involved in planning

If there’s one thing kids love the most, it’s letting their creativity flow, having the reins in their own hands specially handling a device. Ask them to plan their own online workouts to follow and get them at work.

Try the above tricks and keep it fun and entertaining to see the movement magic unfold with active screen time!

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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