Student Well-Being

Regular Breaks From Sedentary Time Found to Improve Children’s Health

By Bryan Toporek — November 27, 2013 2 min read
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It’s not exactly breaking news that large amounts of sedentary time tend to have negative effects when it comes to a child’s health.

The simple act of regularly interrupting sedentary time by standing up, on the other hand, could have beneficial effects for children, according to a study published last week in the open-access online journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers analyzed data from 522 children from Quebec, Canada, between the ages of 8 and 11 (286 boys and 236 girls), all of whom had at least one biological parent with a body mass index of 30 or greater. Each child used an accelerometer for seven days to track when he or she was engaging in light or moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and when he or she was sedentary. The children self-reported how much time they spent watching television and playing video games or using a computer.

Based on the data collected, the researchers calculated a “cardiometabolic risk score,” or a measure of risk for diabetes and heart disease, for each child. They used that score to determine which activities reduced the risk of cardiometabolic-related health problems.

The researchers discovered that children who frequently take breaks from sedentary time—even through the simple act of standing up every five minutes or so—could have lower levels of cardiometabolic risk than children who endure longer bouts of inactivity.

“We already know that sitting too much is bad for kids,” said Travis Saunders, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, in a statement. “But now, for the first time, we have evidence that simply getting up more frequently is associated with better health in this age group.”

Why might this be the case? The researchers suggest that the “behaviors children engage in while sitting,” namely eating more frequently, could be the major contributor to an increased cardiometabolic risk score, not the act of sitting itself.

Cardiometabolic risk was also found to be more closely associated with self-reported leisure time and screen time than objectively measured sedentary time (via accelerometers) among the 8- to 11-year-old study participants. The researchers found no differences between boys and girls when it came to sedentary time, light physical activity, or self-reported television viewing, but boys were significantly more physically active and spent more time using computers and playing video games than girls.

“Increased screen time poses a persistent health risk for kids as a rule,” said Saunders. “But what’s also interesting in this study is that video-gaming was associated with higher risk scores for boys whereas television viewing was linked to higher risk scores for girls.”

So, the next time your children sit down for a marathon video-gaming session, try to encourage them to take frequent breaks to stretch their legs. It could prove beneficial to their long-term health.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.