Get moving! Just 3 minutes of walking makes kids healthier

Have a few minutes to spare? Even the busiest of families can fit in this recommended routine.

benefits of short walking breaks for kids health

Gillian and Isaac in the wilderness. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Like most families across Canada, we’ve had a summer vacation packed with active play. Long sunny days and the freedom to explore our rural neighbourhood on foot or bike have meant my kids have been on the go non-stop. Five-year-old Gillian and eight-year-old Isaac don’t sit still for long, which is why I’m dreading back-to-school next week, when they will once again be back at their desks for a day full of learning. That first week of school never goes smoothly for us, as my kids struggle to make the transition from free-for-all fun to full-time work—and, to be honest, I blame being sedentary during class.

There has long been a link between sedentary kids and behavioural and health problems. But for some families, fitting in 60 minutes of recommended daily physical activity for school-age kids can be overwhelming. School, work, daycare and commuting can gobble up your time (not to mention homework and driving to extracurricular activities after the bell rings). The good news for time-strapped families is that just three minutes of walking can lead to a healthier way of life for your kids.

Wanting to learn more about the health benefits of walking breaks for kids during their day, researchers at the National Institutes of Health measured the blood sugar and insulin levels of 28 youngsters between the ages of seven and 11 in two separate experiments: First, the kids sat for three continuous hours; second, they took three-minute walking breaks every 30 minutes during a three-hour period. To accurately measure how the kids’ bodies processed sugar, researchers had them drink a sugary pop-like drink before the experiments started. Their blood sugar and insulin levels were lower when they took breaks to walk than when they sat continuously. Complete results of the study were recently published online in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Sustained sedentary behaviour after a meal diminishes the muscles’ ability to help clear sugar from the bloodstream,” says study author Britni Belcher. “That forces the body to produce more insulin, which may increase the risk of beta-cell dysfunction and can lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Our findings suggest that even short activity breaks can help overcome these negative effects, at least in the short term.”

Senior study author Jack Yanovski acknowledges that three minutes of walking isn’t even close to the recommended daily amount of physical activity for kids, yet there are still benefits to getting into the habit of short walking breaks with your children. “While we know that getting 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise each day improves children’s health and metabolism, small behavioural changes, such as taking short walking breaks, can also yield some benefits,” says Yanovski.

During a normal school day, getting up and walking every half hour may not be achievable, but a short walk after dinner is absolutely something that every family can easily work into their schedules. It’s only three minutes, but the benefits, according to research, will last much longer.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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