Couch potatoes? Not us ...

We asked three children to fill in a probing fitness questionnaire - then gave their answers to our health expert
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE TWELVE-YEAR-OLD

Louis Schoon is 12 years old and lives in Bromley, Kent. He goes to a local comprehensive school.

SELF CLASSIFICATION: VERY ACTIVE

Louis walks to and from school, two thirds of a mile from home. He plays football informally with his friends before school and during his lunch break, and has a PE or games lesson twice a week. He belongs to the air training corps at school, which meets once a week and includes some square bashing. He goes swimming once a month.

At the weekend he always plays outside and usually goes into town with his friends. He watches at most five hours a week of TV and video. Cycling and playing music each take up to five hours a week of his time.

Would he use the escalator rather than the stairs? Yes.

PROFESSOR'S OPINION:

MODERATELY ACTIVE

Louis walks to school every day and his break-time soccer and regular air training corps sessions provide some additional exercise. Less encouraging is the PE allocation at school - two periods a week is pretty dismal, but of course the time allocated to PE in secondary schools has been steadily reducing since the introduction of the national curriculum.

I am pleased he cycles and occasionally swims in his free time. Both are excellent activities for promoting cardiovascular fitness. They are enjoyable and can be carried out individually or with friends. I hope that he sustains them through adolescence and into adult life.

It is not surprising he thinks he is very active. Most boys think they are but is it not always borne out by their levels of activity.

There is international consensus that all adolescents should incorporate physical activity that exercises all muscle groups into their day-to-day lives. The intensity and the duration is probably less important than the fact that some energy is expended and good habits are set. Walking up stairs, walking or bicycling on errands or doing household chores are all recommended.

On top of this, three 20-minute sessions a week which involve moderate to vigorous levels of exertion are recommended. Sport or brisk walking are the obvious examples.

THE NINE-YEAR-OLD

Stella Dilke is nine years old and lives in London. She goes to a state primary school in Hammersmith.

SELF CLASSIFICATION: MODERATELY ACTIVE

Stella has a 20-minute walk to and from school, which is about half a mile from her home She talks to her friends during her morning break and plays games during the lunch and afternoon break She has three games or PE lessons a week but does not play for any school teams and is not involved in any organised sport or physical activity outside school. Team sports bore her. There is football at school in the winter but she never seems to get to kick the ball.

She reads daily and does not watch a great deal of TV a week - Blue Peter three times a week and a bit of children's TV early on Saturday morning. She plays computer games even less. She cycles quite a bit - more than five hours a week, usually cycling alongside the Thames with her father. She goes swimming every week with her nanny.

She hardly ever plays outside but spends up to 15 hours a week playing inside the house. She likes chasing her seven-year-old sister and four- year-old brother and playing with her doll's house. She likes gardening - spending five to 10 hours a week on it - and spends a similar amount of time playing music.

She, too, would take an escalator to the fourth floor of the shops.

PROFESSOR'S OPINION: MODERATELY ACTIVE

Stella's claim to be moderately active is supported by her answers. It is good that she is walking to and from school but interesting that she is not choosing to take part in any organised sport. There is an argument that the physical education part of the national curriculum is far less attractive to girls because it is based on competition and male patterns of play.

She, too, would choose the escalator over the stairs. It is not of course always easy to find the stairs in a large shop, while the escalator is usually centrally placed.

THE FIVE-YEAR-OLD

Rosamond Brown is five years old and lives in Saffron Walden in Essex.

SELF CLASSIFICATION: VERY ACTIVE

Rosamond walks to and from school. It takes her about 15 minutes each way. Her Mum prefers to walk whenever possible. She plays games during breaks and lunch time - in one of her favourites she runs around pretending to be a dog. She has four PE or games sessions a week at school, which includes a ballet class. Outside school she is less physically active. Her passion is reading. She reckons she spends about 20 hours a week on it. She also likes drawing, gardening and listening to music or story tapes. She watches TV only about two hours a week. Her mother is not keen on television. She plays outside two or three times a week.

She can't swim, doesn't have a bicycle and takes part in no organised sport or fitness activities outside school. Her mum does not enjoy team sports either. She enjoys fishing with her dad at the weekend sometimes and going to museums, the ballet and historic houses.

Confronted with four floors to climb in a large shop she would use an escalator.

PROFESSOR'S CLASSIFICATION: MODERATELY ACTIVE

It is good to see that Rosamond walks to and from school. There has been a marked decline in the number of children who walk to and from school over the past 20 years. If mum or dad walks with her they are being good role models and getting exercise.

Ballet is good exercise and enjoyable so long as she is not put under too much pressure to be successful too early, which can create a psychological barrier for future participation in organised activities.

I'm pleased that she is playing games during her breaks. After all that sitting down in classrooms, she will need to stretch her legs.

Her parents provide her with a range of experiences and do a lot with her, which gives them the opportunity to be excellent active role models. I hope they lead active lives.

Interestingly she chooses to use the escalator in the shop - her choice or her parents', I wonder?

HOW ACTIVE ARE YOUR CHILDREN - THE 'INDEPENDENT' QUESTIONNAIRE

These are the questions we asked our guinea-pig children. Why not ask your own children to answer the questions - set by Neil Armstrong, professor of health and exercise sciences at Exeter University - too? Compare his comments on our three guinea pigs with your children's responses.

1. For a young person of your age and sex, how active do you think you are?

a)very inactive

b)inactive

c)moderately active

d)active

e)very active

2. How do you travel to and from school?

a)walk

b)cycle

c)bus

d)car

e)other

3. What do you do during lunch and at break times?

a)talk to friends

b)walk around

c)play games

d)play team games

e)other

4. From when you get home from school until you go to bed, what do you do?

a)play outside

b)play games

c)play team games

d)watch TV or videos

e)play computer games

f)read

g)listen to music

h)other

5. On Saturday and Sunday what do you do?

a)play outside

b)play games

c)play team games

d)watch TV or videos

e)watch sport

f)play computer games

g)read

h)listen to music

i)go into town with friends

j)other

6. How many PE or games lessons do you have at school each week?

7. Do you play in a school or club sports team? If so, how often?

8. Do you go to organised sport or activity (eg aerobics) sessions? How often?

9. If you are in a large shop and find that the section you want to visit is on the fourth floor do you:

a)use the escalator

b)use the stairs

c)go home in disgust

10. During a normal week how many hours do you spend doing the following?

a)watching TV or video

b)playing computer games

c)playing sport with friends

d)playing organised sport

e)swimming

f)cycling

g)watching sport

h)playing music

i)list activities on which you spend 11 hours or more.

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