Benefits of physical activity on your child's growth
For most kids, moving comes naturally and there's no need to build structured exercise into their day. Gym class and recess at school, extracurricular sports and activities, playing outside, riding a bike or even just helping out around the house are a few of the ways your kids are getting their daily dose of physical activity.
Here at the Stamford American International School in Singapore, we encourage our students to be active. Experts recommend at least an hour of moderate exercise for kids every day. If that seems like a lot, consider the many benefits of physical activity on children's growth and development.
1) Exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, bones and muscles
All muscles in the body improve their performance with regular use. When kids engage in physical activity, the heart and lungs get stronger, moving blood and oxygen through the body more efficiently. Muscle tone and strength improve, and bone density increases. This helps prevent a number of diseases, including heart disease and osteoporosis. Furthermore, it lowers cholesterol levels in the blood, reduces blood pressure and strengthens the blood vessels.
2) Exercise helps regulate blood sugar
Prolonged inactivity can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can lead to diabetes over time. Exercise directs the muscles to take glucose from the blood for energy and helps keep blood sugar levels steady, significantly reducing a child's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
3) Exercise improves coordination and reflexes
Healthy development of motor skills and reflexes impacts almost all areas of a child's growth, from how they hold a pencil to form letters to the ability to regulate emotions. Exercise supports improved coordination, reflexes and gross motor skills to assist with core strength, balance, lateral movement and brain function.
4) Exercise increases energy levels
It may seem like the last thing your child needs, but having more energy is actually really important for kids. Regular physical activity gives kids an energy boost that becomes easier to maintain over time. This sustained energy improves focus and attention to help them do better in school, keeps them more engaged at home, and helps regulate mood.
5) Exercise is good for mental health
Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that make us feel good and improve our overall sense of wellbeing. Kids who exercise regularly tend to be calmer, less stressed, more resilient and better able to cope with change than kids who are sedentary. Some studies have even suggested that kids who exercise are less likely to develop depression, anxiety or other mood disorders. Exercise also encourages better sleep, which has a host of benefits for kids.
6) Exercise helps control weight
Inactive kids tend to take in more calories than they need, which increases a child's risk of obesity and introduces the potential for a number of other health problems. Giving kids plenty of opportunity to get moving every day not only helps control weight but can also help prevent weight-related illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Tips to get kids moving
Research suggests that children respond better to physical activity when it becomes a family affair. The easiest way to encourage your kids to exercise more is to join in!
Here are a few simple suggestions to help incorporate more movement into your family's day:
• Go for a walk together.
• Schedule exercise for times when everyone is more likely to participate, like after dinner or after school.
• Rethink exercise – climbing, dancing, raking leaves or going bowling are all great ways to get kids more active without counting sit-ups or laps around the track.
• Make it a group effort by inviting friends to join you for a walk around the block or a nature hike on a local trail. (We recommend a walk around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.)
• Set goals as a family and track your progress. Come up with a reward or special treat to keep everyone motivated to stick to the plan.
• Look for unexpected opportunities to move more, like racing from the house to the car or having a push-up competition during commercial breaks of your favorite TV show.
• Get outside, whatever the weather. Sunshine and fresh air paired with a fun workout like sledding, swimming or playing tag will give everyone an instant mood boost.
• Let kids choose the workout.
• Get active for a cause that is important to your family. Fundraising walks and charity fun runs are great ways for families to exercise together.
Encouraging kids to be more active puts them on the road to lifelong health. Approach exercise as a family and incorporate movement into your day any way you can to start reaping the benefits.