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Can technology & physical activity work together?

  • Written by Dean Horridge on in the category Active lives.

As parents, we try to encourage our children to be active but I am sure you also will be familiar with the frustration of hearing “just one more level” or “I’m right in the middle of snapchatting with Chloe!”

Clearly, the increasing popularity of screen devices and video games has been working against keeping kids active, hence the childhood obesity crisis that we as a country find ourselves in today. Nowadays many kids would rather spend their time snapchatting, instagraming & YouTubing than going outside to throw a ball or ride a bike.

We know that gaming and television aren’t going away but we must set consistent limits on when, how long and on which days would be acceptable to play or watch. Saying it's ok to play for three hours a day and then the next day asking them to turn off the device after 30 mins will only confuse and frustrate our children.

DID YOU KNOW? Experts around the world tell us that kids need 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily (commonly abbreviated as MVPA) to ensure healthy growth and development for our children.

How habits are formed...

The challenge with screen-based entertainment is that they become a pleasing and fun habit for kids. People are creatures of habit, and there’s an accepted pattern to how we behave.

A habit is a behaviour that becomes automatic after repeating it in a setting and consistently getting a reward. Consider, for example, eating cookies at Grandma’s house. With repetition, a visit to Grandma’s house quickly becomes the cue that prompts the habitual routine or behaviour of eating cookies which leads to the rewarding pleasure that cookies deliver!

As it happens, this pattern of cue-routine-reward also describes how kids (and adults) become habitual users of social media, digital games, and apps.

Using technology to create activity habits...

What about using this same approach to get our kids physically active?

In the context of Facebook and gambling sites, there may be serious ethical questions around engineering digital behaviours to create habits. But what if our purpose is to help our children to establish physical activity habits and live healthier lives?

We know that the video game industry is not going to disappear, and we know that games are keeping kids indoors and sedentary. With a little shrewdness, we can use the gaming technology that our kids love to help them develop good habits. However, the key is to make these apps and games fun for kids, and not just a program of fitness exercises that are better suited for adults.

It’s time to use technology in a way that makes being active fun. If we do it right, we may even be able to make physical activity as rewarding as watching videos on YouTube.

So lets work together and embrace technology, set limits and agreed expectations for our children and make daily activity part of everyone's lives…….

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