Why 70% of girls are missing out on regular exercise
Girls aged between eight and 15 spend almost half as much time taking part in sports activities as boys of the same age, according to a report published this year by The Office for National Statistics (ONS). Boys are also more likely to take part in sports, with around four in 10 boys playing sports every day compared to less than three in 10 girls. As children’s bodies grow, regular exercise is vital for keeping them fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. So why are girls missing out on this?
How do girls feel about exercise?
Overall, it is concerning how little time children spend exercising, with less than a quarter getting the advised 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Although a rise in screen time is likely to have encouraged less active lifestyles, it doesn’t explain the difference between the two sexes. A survey carried out last year by Girlguiding tells us why some older girls (aged 11-21) might be put off of sports and exercise:
“I fear being judged about my appearance”
The most popular response reflected children’s self-image, a very delicate topic at this age. Of the girls surveyed, four in 10 said “I fear being judged about my appearance”, while 16 per cent said, “I don’t like getting sweaty and looking unattractive”.
As easy as it might be to blame this on girls being superficial, there is a lot of pressure on them to look good – especially in the era of social media where a bad snap can get circulated around the school in a matter of seconds.
Parents do need to be sensitive to this, but it’s so crucial that we help children learn that their value far exceeds what they look like. Generally building your child’s self-esteem can help with this, so try finding a hobby or interest they like, and encouraging them to pursue it. It may also help to join a sports group so that your daughter is surrounded by peers who are focused on enjoying themselves and not what they, or anyone else, looks like.
“I don’t think I’m good enough at it”
Fear of failure was also a key concern of the girls surveyed, with four in 10 saying they didn’t think they were good enough to take part in sports and exercise. This may be based on skill, being fit enough or being the ‘right size’ to join in.
It could also be in part due to the emphasis put on male sports (compared to female sports) in society; a quarter of young girls surveyed held the belief that P.E. is a ‘boys’ subject, compared to just 2 per cent who thought it was for girls.
This isn’t surprising – men’s football, rugby, golf, cricket are all televised and we can all name some of the top players. But what about women’s football or rugby? Or netball? How often is this televised, and how many key female players can we name? Girls need strong female role models to help grow the belief that they can be good enough.
“I don’t enjoy it”
Three in 10 girls said they didn’t do physical activities because they don’t enjoy them. This may be because the sports and exercise they have come across in P.E. lessons are very limited, so girls may not have discovered something that captures their interest. For example, despite almost a third of girls saying they would like to do martial arts at school, more than half are not offered this.
It’s therefore really important to give girls access to a wider range of activities outside of school. Talk to your daughter to find out if there is anything she thinks she might be interested in trying out; have a look on YouTube together so she can see what sorts of things a club like that might involve. You could also speak to other parents to get personal recommendations for local clubs.
Getting girls active
Encouraging girls to get into sports and exercise means changing the mindset not just of children, but of society too. The impact of the #ThisGirlCan campaign – which encourages girls and women to “do their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets” – has already empowered 1.6 million women to start exercising.
It’s important to make exercise a part of children’s lifestyles from an early age, so they grow up with this as the norm. Active free play has a key role in this, which is why it’s the most important part of a balanced play diet. The freedom and space to move can encourage active play, as can a few carefully chosen toys.
Bikes and scooters are great for this, but if you’re limited for space, a fold-away mini trampoline can be a good option. It’s ideal for unpredictable weather – set it up outside for some fun in the sun, or bring it indoors when the rain starts to pour. At the 3 Foot People Festival, we saw for ourselves how much little ones just loved jumping, running and dancing on the MyRebounder mini trampolines we took along with us.
Sports clubs can also be a good way to encourage physical activity this and have been linked with other benefits as well, including better social skills and higher academic achievement.
Today’s Parent suggests asking four key questions when looking for a sports club to join:
- What’s the coach’s approach? Do they focus on competition, or developing skills and having fun?
- Does the program welcome beginners? Particularly if your daughter is just starting out, look for a group that welcomes children regardless of skill level.
- Is the sport right for your child? It might require some trial and error, so don’t be afraid to try out a range of clubs before signing up long-term. Consider your daughter’s personality – would she work better alone or with a team? What are her strengths – speed, coordination, focus?
- Is your child enjoying it? Whether she likes the sport, or simply the social aspect, find a club your daughter is excited to be a part of.
Finally, remember to be a positive role model for your daughter. If she sees you enjoying sports and exercise she’s much more likely to believe, in fact, #ThisGirlCan!
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Tags: active, boys, childhood obesity, Fun4all, girls, myrebounder, sport
This post was written by Claire Gillies