Healthy Living in the North

Sedentary Behaviours – They’re not all created equal!

The sun sets over water in the distance. The sky is blue and gold punctuated by clouds. In the foreground, a silhouette watches the beautiful scene.

Some sedentary behaviours are good for your well-being, like taking in a soothing sunset.

The new smoking.” Sedentary time (time spent in a sitting or lying position while expending very little energy) has come under fire for its negative health effects lately. While there are certainly significant health risks associated with time spent being sedentary, calling it “the new smoking” is a bit of a scare tactic – smoking is still riskier.

At this point, you might be starting to doubt my intentions. After all, my job is to promote increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour in the name of better health. Fear not! I’ll get there yet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years of age:

This is really exciting because the WHO took the evidence used in the development of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4), reviewed more evidence, and reinforced these main messages:

  • Kids need to get a good amount and variety of physical activity each day.
    • For those under one year, being active several times a day including floor-based play and tummy time.
    • For kids between one to two years of age, at least three hours at any intensity throughout the day.
    • For kids between three to four years of age, at least three hours, including at least one hour of higher intensity activity throughout the day.
  • Kids need to get enough – and good quality – sleep!
    • For those under one year, the recommendation is 12-17 hours including naps.
    • For ages one to two, 11-14 hours.
    • For ages three to four, 10-13 hours.
  • Kids need to spend less (or limited) time being restrained and sitting in front of screens.
    • Translation? Not being stuck in a stroller or car seat for more than one hour at a time. Screen time isn’t recommended for children under two years, and it’s recommended to limit sedentary screen time to no more than one hour for kids aged between two and four.

Here’s what I really appreciate about this last part, and what I think actually applies to all ages: the recommendation is to replace restrained and sedentary screen time with more physical activity, while still ensuring a good quality sleep. However, it doesn’t tell us to avoid all sedentary time completely. In fact, this concept recognizes that there are a number of sedentary activities (particularly in the early, developmental years, but also for all ages) that are very valuable from a holistic wellness perspective.

For children, these higher quality sedentary activities include quiet play, reading, creative storytelling and interacting with caregivers, etc. For adults, things like reading a book, creating something, making music, or working on a puzzle can contribute to our overall wellness by expanding our minds and focusing on something positive.

So, what I’m saying is this: yes, for the sake of our health, we need to sit less and move more. However, not all sedentary behaviours are terrible or need to be eliminated completely. Generally, the sedentary behaviours that we, as a society, need to get a handle on are the ones involving staring at screens and numbing our brains. This is not to say that we should never watch TV or movies, or scroll through social media; we just need to be mindful of it, and try to swap out some of these activities in favour of moving our bodies more. We need to recognize the difference between those sedentary activities that leave you feeling sluggish and dull versus those that leave you inspired and peaceful. Do less of what dulls you, and more of what inspires you, for a balanced, healthy life!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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