I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Wellesley Pubic School Health and Wellness Fair and gave a presentation on Balancing Screen Time and Outdoor Play. This is a summary of some of the main ideas I came away with.
Screen Use is Going Up and Time Spent Outdoors is Going Down
Surprisingly, the amount of research done on the effects of screens aren’t abundant, but research is clear that physical activity and time spent outdoors are going down for virtually all age groups, while screen times are increasing. The Canadian Paediatric Society suggest specific limits on screen time (1 hour for those 2-5 years) while their UK counterpart does not – although they do recommend setting limits without giving a specific time. At least asking whether screen time is interfering with other aspects of life, such as adequate physical activity and nutrition, sleep and family activities is prudent. The 24 hour movement guidelines set some targets for physical activity. Below is the guideline for 5-17 year old’s (https://csepguidelines.ca/):
Negatives (and Positives) of Screen Time
Screens can have positive effects if used judiciously and with quality content and adult engagement (co-viewing). However there is no evidence pointing to any benefits worthy of early introduction of screens. Impaired language development, reduced physical activity, poor diet, decreased ability to self regulate and increased risk of depression and anxiety are among some negatives that have been associated with high screen use.
Specific Benefits of Being Outdoors
While we know a broad range of benefits of being physically active, there is also research that demonstrates there are numerous benefits to being outside in nature. This includes the fact that just being outdoors lends to being more physically active, but the outdoors also help build resilience and
Parent Screen Time is the Biggest Predictor of Child Screen Time
This speaks for itself. Even though we may sometimes think our children don’t ‘listen’ to us – they see and hear everything we do. We must be mindful of our own screen use and how it impacts their behaviours as well as our interactions with them. Even though I don’t consider myself a ‘heavy’ phone user (at least in terms of total time), I was shocked at how often I ‘checked’ my phone. There are many free apps you can download to monitor and in some cases limit your own phone use. Moment for iPhones and Quality Time for Android phones are two of the more popular.
Things to Consider in a ‘Media Plan’ for your Family
The best way to get kids interested in the outdoors is to model the behaviour yourself. Scheduling regular family time in the outdoors can make it a routine part of life. Of course it is not always that easy. Below are some ways to engage kids with the outdoors:
In addition to setting limits on time, two ideas came up frequently as ways enhance the positives and reduce the negatives of screens
A couple weeks ago many of us celebrated Thanksgiving. For most this probably involved a large meal with family and for some included a reflection of the past year and things we have to be thankful for. For most of us, this intentional practice is limited to a single day of the year. But there is a growing body of evidence that there are many benefits to extending this once a year routine (being thankful, not the overeating..) into something more – even a daily habit. Research mainly focuses on various benefits of gratitude. Some people will argue, perhaps correctly, a difference between being thankful and grateful – but the definition of one often includes the other. One definition I like is from an article on Gratitude and Well Being:
“gratitude is the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself; it is a general state of thankfulness and/or appreciation”
(Sansone & Sansone, 2010).
Regardless of an exact definition, gratitude is generally thought of as a positive emotion, in contrast to negative emotions like guilt. Robert Emmons, a prominent gratitude researcher lists the following benefits of gratitude:
Again according to Emmons in an excerpt from an article found on the Positive Psychology website: “In a state of gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all in all, life is good, and has elements that make it not just worth living, but rich in texture and detail”.
There are many emerging theories as to why and how gratitude can have these impacts. There is no doubt a general correlation to stress and negative thoughts in general – when you look for positive things in life you will find them – when you look for negative things you will find those. This doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen – they do and will and we still need to deal with them. We may just be better able to keep them in context – while still remembering the multitude of positive things our lives offer.
The most common practice to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. Every day write down at least 1 or more things you were grateful for, thankful for or appreciative of – really anything positive that happened during your day. Emmons encourages people to “establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits and good things you enjoy. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes or valued people in your life”. Another set of instructions (taken from the MRI study) : There are many daily events in our lives, large and small that we might be thankful for. There are many people who affect our lives in a positive way. These occur in various domains, including relationships, work, school, housing, finances, health, and so forth. Think back over today or this past week and write a journal entry about what you are grateful for.” Whether a list or a story works better for you is OK – the main thing is to try and do it daily for at least 3 weeks.
Some entries from my past journaling include:
A recent CBC episode of The Current exploring exercise and going to the gym discussed the concept of a 'Blue Zone' - a demographic or geographic area where people live measurably longer lives. Author and researcher Dan Buettner spoke specifically about the physical activity patterns of people in Blue Zones, as part of an argument against going to the gym to be healthy. The reality of life in the Blue Zones is that physical activity is woven into everyday life - people live in environments that press them into movement every 20 minutes or so. This frequent, low intensity movement is in contrast to current practices of going to the gym a few times a week to make up for the rest of our general inactivity. I should point out here that I am certainly not telling anyone to stop going to the gym or going out for a run - there are many known benefits to exercise as we know it, outlined very nicely in this "visual lecture" from 2011. However, given the reality that many people don't get the often recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, it is certainly worth considering some of Buettner's suggestions to adapt our modern environments to more closely achieve the activity levels of people in the Blue Zones. He argues we can achieve a 30% increase in a population's physical activity levels by incorporating planning principles such as cleaning parks, narrowing traffic lanes, creating bike lanes and widening sidewalks - in essence, designing built environments to be more walk-able. On a more individual level, some strategies you may have heard of before, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking at the far end of the parking lot are still good ideas. Buettner adds to this list with suggestions such as taking out garage door openers, using hand tools instead of electric tools, moving your TV as far away from the snacks you might want - many little things that through the day add up to more frequent, low intensity exercise. Research is also demonstrating the negative health effects of sitting itself, regardless of the amount of physical activity you get. If you have a sedentary job, think about some of the following tips from the American College of Sports Medicine for moving more at work:
We use this as diaper cream for our boys and have really liked it. Calendula has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and healing properties which make it a great choice.
Start with a 750mL jar packed with dried calendula flowers, fill the flower jar up with olive oil and cap. Leave the oil to infuse for 4-6 weeks, then strain the flowers from the oil.
Set up a double boiler on the stove.
-1 cup infused oil (use cheese cloth to strain the flower/oil mixture so you don't end up with pieces in the salve)
-1/3 cup chopped/grated bees wax (you can buy this at most health food stores)
-1/3 cup coconut oil
Heat until it is all liquid. Then test the consistency of the salve by taking a small amount onto a spoon and putting it in the freezer for a couple of minutes. If it is too oily, add more bees wax. If too solid, add more oil.
When desired consistency is reached, remove from heat.
Add 1/2 tsp vitamin E oil (to preserve the salve - we squeezed some from a liquid capsule) and 10 drops of essential oil (I like using lavendar, lemon, tea tree).
Pour into containers and let it sit, untouched, while the salve sets.
This is one of our family favourites. A healthy and hearty meal we like to make during the week because it's so easy. You can also make vegetarian if you omit the sausage.
3 turkey or chicken sausages
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups green lentils
4 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves
1) Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, remove casings from sausage, cook 3 minutes or until sausage is browned. Stir until crumbled.
2) Add onion, celery and carrot, cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add minced garlic, cook 1 minute.
3) Stir in lentils and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.
Discard bay leaves.
Hope you enjoy this soup as much as we do!
A recent outbreak of gastrointestinal illness at my son's daycare and subsequently at my house, brought to light a common confusion between the flu (influenza) and what is commonly called 'stomach flu' (gastroenteritis, commonly caused by norovirus). People are also often confused between the common cold and influenza. The following table gives some basic guidelines to help differentiate between them.
As you can see, the stomach 'flu' is very different from influenza. Knowing this, you can treat them differently. Hopefully this brief post has helped you to understand these common ailments.
Table adapted from: www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/influenza-compare-symptoms.html