UAE doctors recommend that children in the UAE should begin regular physical activity and exercise starting at age of three to promote growth and development. However, doctors noted that many children are not meeting the minimum daily exercise guidelines.
According to the Gulf Health Council children that are 3-4 years old should have daily physical activity for three hours while those in the age group of 5-14 years should get at least one hour of moderate to high-intensity activity, such as riding a bike, playing football, or running, as well as jogging and swimming.
A survey conducted in 2019 found that nearly 84 per cent of the children in the UAE don’t reach the minimum goal required per day for exercise or physical activity.
However, the UAE has physical education programmes throughout school life that encourages children to join sports teams. It is mandatory for children to attend physical education classes at least once a week and this promotes a healthier lifestyle in most adolescents. If the same was continued outside schools, and physical activity or exercise regimes at home are encouraged, it would have many positive outcomes including better grades at school and a healthier state of mind and body.
Dr Osama Elsayed Rezk Elassy, clinical assistant professor, consultant and head of the division, Centre for Paediatrics and Neonatology, Thumbay University Hospital, recommends kids start engaging in routine physical activity starting from three years of age as it helps in their growth and development – both mentally and physically.
Dr Hesham Farouk Gomaa, specialist paediatrics, Aster Clinic, Arabian Ranches and Al Barsha, said regular participation in physical activity helps reduce the health risk of childhood obesity and the associated chronic diseases.
“Increased participation in physical activity influences cognitive functions in children, including executive functioning e.g., working memory and cognitive flexibility and brain health,” he said.
Dr Hesham added that most children in the UAE don’t even get the bare minimum of physical activity.
“One reason for the low activity level is the UAE’s hot climate. People go outside less so there are more indoor activities and more screen time, which is the opposite of what we want.”
Dr Osama of Thumbay University Hospital added that kids in UAE usually don’t exercise except for the ones who have easy access to a pool in their home or outdoors.
“Children that lack physical activity in their daily routines are usually susceptible to long-term impacts such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular problems as they grow older.
“One of the many benefits of regular exercise and physical activity is that there is an outlet for stress, especially in adolescents. Lack, thereof, may lead to stress, mood swings, insomnia due to the pent-up stress, reduced performance in school and overall reduced quality of physical, mental and emotional health,” he added.
Activities for children as per their age:
(Courtesy: Dr Hesham Farouk Gomaa, Specialist Paediatrics, Aster Clinic)
Ages 3 to 5: Preschoolers can play team sports, like soccer, basketball, swimming, or T-ball, as long as their expectations are realistic. Any sport at this age should be about play, not competition.
Ages 6 to 8: Children have developed enough by age 6 that they can hit a pitched baseball and pass a soccer ball or basketball. They can also do gymnastics routines and pedal and steer a two-wheeled bike.
Ages 9 to 11: Children are usually able to hit and accurately throw a baseball and make solid contact with a golf or tennis ball. If children are interested in participating in events such as short triathlons or distance running races, these are safe as long as they have trained for the event and maintain healthy hydration.
Ages 12 to 14: Kids may lose interest in the structured environment of organised sports as they reach adolescence. They may wish to focus instead on strength- or muscle-building exercises. But unless the child has entered puberty, discourage lifting heavy weights. Encourage healthier options, such as stretchy tubes and bands, as well as body-weight exercises like squats and pushups.
Age 15 and older: Once the teen has gone through puberty and is ready to lift weights, urge them to take a weight-training class or a few sessions with an expert. If a high schooler expresses interest in endurance events like triathlons or marathons, there’s no reason to say no, although many races have minimum age requirements.