In recent years, wellbeing has become a key focus in society. The most well-known aspect of personal wellbeing is physical health, and children have been taught about it for years, with physical education taught in most schools across Australia.
Many believe that Generation Alpha will face challenges when it comes to maintaining their physical health because of increasing sedentary lifestyles, with greater inactivity and less time spent outside. Throw screen-based devices into the mix and we have some real challenges to ensure Generation Alpha prioritise their physical health when they are young, and as they grow. Yet a new generation of parents are also using technology and the help it can provide to encourage physical health among the next generation, in the areas of exercise and fitness, sleep and nutrition.
Exercise and fitness
For many adults, exercise can seem difficult to fit into a full schedule and it is one of the first things we give up when life gets busy. Most children, on the other hand, love to be active and play. In addition to the physiological benefits, exercise helps children to develop social skills, embrace teamwork, learn the reward of hard work and how to deal with disappointment or loss. There are also mental wellbeing benefits of spending time outdoors and in nature.
A key barrier to being active is a sedentary lifestyle, and while too much time sitting and using technology can inhibit exercise, it can also be used to promote it. Devices and smart watches are being used by many parents to help their children track their exercise and gamify activity through setting goals, measuring achievement and giving rewards. There has been a shift away from children’s sport being about competition and success towards participation, physical movement and fun. Combined with this, parents are participating alongside their children in fitness activities. Examples of family-friendly exercise include the global phenomenon of Parkrun, and the rise of fun activity venues such as trampoline parks and rock climbing centres.
Another important aspect of physical health is sleep. Having good-quality and ample sleep affects our ability to be creative, relate well to others, concentrate and by physically fit. Sleep is especially important for children and their growing minds and bodies. When children get enough sleep, it has a positive impact on their brain function, emotional wellbeing, physical health and their ability to function on a daily basis.
A recent study showed that more than half (54 per cent) of Australians access their phones during the last three minutes before they go to bed at night, which can be a big disruptor to sleep. Despite the negative influences of technology, many people also use it to help their children get to sleep. The rise in long-play ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) soundtracks on YouTube, for example, or other ‘white noise’ sounds (storm recordings, rain or waterfall sounds) have gained a massive following, and for many people these recordings are their go-to sleep aids.
A balanced, nutritious diet plays an important role in a child’s growth and development. The parents of Generation Alpha have seen firsthand the change in children’s health from their childhood to today – from increased childhood obesity to more sedentary lives, to the increase in food allergies and the heightened awareness of anaphylaxis and special dietary needs. This, along with these parents being more nutritionally informed, is giving Generation Alpha an improved nutritional foundation. A generation of new parents have themselves been seeking healthy eating from organic food, less meat in their diets, alcohol-free days, more label reading and additive avoidance.
When women today begin their pregnancies, there is far more awareness and intentionality around nutrition for the developing baby. Additionally, parents are supported in this direction with far more choice in supermarkets, clear labelling, health star ratings and an array of allergen-free options.
While we live in an increasingly digital world, it’s important for us all to get outside, exercise, spend time off screens and get quality sleep. If we as adults can model this behaviour well, then Generation Alpha have a greater chance of developing healthy practices that can contribute to their overall health and wellbeing.