Physical activity in children is important for a wide variety of reasons. It helps to reduce overweight and obesity, increases strength in muscles and bones and can even improve concentration at school. Exercise is a vital component of any child’s development—laying the foundations for a healthy life.
Promoting healthy growth and development. These benefits continue into adulthood as kids who exercise are more likely to keep exercising as adults.
Helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Childhood obesity is a significant problem in Australia. Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet can help to reduce the likelihood of your child being overweight or obese. If weight loss needs to occur, then exercise can reduce it in a healthy way.
Improves cardiovascular health. The heart is the most important muscle that gets exercised during physical activity. Regular exercise helps to reduce risk factors of cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Improves balance, flexibility, coordination and strength. Balance and coordination skills are necessary for everyday life. Improved muscle strength and flexibility improves a child’s overall health and physical fitness.
Assists in the development of gross and fine motor skills. Fine motor skills involve the refined use of the muscles in the hand, fingers and thumb important in writing, feeding oneself and buttoning a shirt.
Gross motor skills enable a child to perform everyday functions such as walking, running and sporting skills.
Improves posture. Poor posture in children can result in fatigue, back and neck pain and headaches. Children who have spines that are out of alignment or deformed due to chronic slouching are less developed in physical coordination and as a result cognitive coordination.
Improves concentration and thinking skills. Studies have shown that exercising improves a child’s academic achievement. Exercise encourages your brain to work at maximum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.
Overweight and obesity have also been linked to lower cognitive, school and later life achievement.
Boosts confidence and self-esteem. This may be related to exercise and its ability to boost mood, increase positivity and strengthen self-worth.
Relieves stress and promotes relaxation. Exercise is a fantastic way to relieve stress and anxiety, as children can be affected by these problems. It can also improve sleep which is critical for a child’s overall health and wellbeing.
Provides opportunities to develop social skills and make friends. Engaging in a team sport provides a chance for a child to make new friends and work as a team.
There are several hypothesized theories as to why exercise is beneficial for cognition. It is firstly believed to improve blood flow and oxygenation to our brains. It has also been shown to increase levels of noradrenaline and endorphins which help to reduce stress and improve mood. Lastly, exercise has been shown to create new nerve cells and improve communication between them. Animal studies have found that when exercise is performed nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, referred to as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote the health of nerve cells – having a direct effect on brain health and subsequently learning.
Besides these suggested physiological responses, regular participation of kids in sports activities may improve a child’s behaviour in the classroom, increasing the level of concentration on the academic content of these lessons.
There have been a few studies conducted on children that powerfully illustrates the importance of exercise in children for brain health and cognition.
One study found that students at Naperville Central High School who participated in a dynamic morning exercise program nearly doubled their reading scores and maths scores increased 20-fold. Other research has found that 30 minutes on the treadmill, allows students to solve problems up to 10% more effectively.
To get your kids moving, limit the amount of time they spend watching tv, playing computer or video games or doing other sedentary activities. Replace these activities with other forms of physical activity which can be structured or play-based. Children need at least 30 minutes of exercise daily but will benefit from even more than this. Allow your child to choose activities that appeal to them and that are age appropriate. Keeping it fun will allow the child to stay interested and remember to exercise yourself to set a good example.
Play-based and structured activities for children are two important sources of exercise for children. It’s important to vary the form of exercise which can include aerobic activity, interval training, strength training, stretching and core-building activities.
Play-based activities are important for children of all ages but especially in kids under the age of 5. A game with a ball, dancing to music, playing at the park and games that stimulate a child’s imagination are good examples. These forms of exercise can allow adults to get involved, are spontaneous and fun for kids and don’t cost a thing.
Exercise in the form of a class or team sport is what is referred to as a structured form of exercise. It can allow a child to develop specific skills such as gymnastics, soccer or swimming. Team sports can help to boost confidence and develop social skills, while learning to be a team player.
Improve your child’s health physically and academically by encouraging at least 30 minutes or more of daily exercise. Set them up well in life so they can lead a healthy and happy life.