My kids love their ‘screens’ as much as anyone else’s. Getting them to turn off their devices and come out on a dog walk isn’t always an easy task. Once they’re out, they love it and don’t want to go back home but sometimes it does take a bit of effort, imagination and ‘motherly persuasion’. It would be much easier to just let them carry on sitting, transfixed but I know how important it is for kids to exercise. There are so many benefits and I’m not just talking about avoiding obesity. No, there are reasons that make exercise downright essential for our children and we have a duty as parents, carers, teachers, whatever, to encourage them to be active. Here are five reasons to make you realise it IS worth the effort.
- It’s vital for their bone health. Our peak bone mass is the strongest our bones are ever going to be. We reach this when we’re around 30 years old BUT 90 per cent is achieved by the age of 18 to 20. Activity helps to strengthen bones. Weight bearing exercise when bones are under direct impact and resistance exercise where the tendons tug on the bone will both help to stimulate bone thickening. If early and teenage years are spent sitting and being inactive then children are missing out on this vital time for bone formation. They can’t simply catch up on this when they’re adults.
- They’ll do better at school. This point really is a no-brainer! Children that regularly participate in physical activity will learn better and faster. They’re more able to concentrate, solve problems and their behaviour is better too. Essentially being active helps their brains work more effectively. These benefits not only happen straight after exercise but in the longer term too. We all want the best for our children, helping them to fulfil their potential should be our aim.
- It gives them a healthy coping mechanism. There do seem to be so many pressures on children these days. What with homework, exams, friendship issues and a good dollop of peer pressure, the expectations on them are high. It’s so important to develop strategies that help them cope, not only now but in years to come when adult responsibilities and stressors kick in. Exercise is perfect for this. The time-out and distraction offered by exercise along with the surge of endorphins (the body’s own ‘happy hormones’) will lift their mood, give them a sense of wellbeing and help them relax. If my daughter is upset, tired or just plain grumpy she puts her music on, shuts the door and just dances. She tells me it makes her feel happy and I love that she’s discovered this herself.
- They’ll sleep well. Children’s brains are often referred to as sponges; they soak up information all the time. New experiences in daily life as well as formal teaching in school lessons all expose the brain to an overload of messages that it has to process. The body’s muscles and joints all need time overnight to repair and strengthen after the day’s activities. Regular daily exercise, particularly vigorous exercise, is thought to help kids sleep better. A study of 500 children in New Zealand in 2009 found that children took an average of 26 minutes to fall asleep. They fell asleep about six minutes faster for every hour of vigorous activity that they did. For every hour they’d been sitting, it took them three minutes longer to get to sleep. Interestingly several studies have found that active children don’t sleep longer, some found the reverse, that active children sleep for less time than active ones, but they may sleep better and feel more refreshed the next day.
- It’s fun! So far the reasons for getting your kids active have all sounded a bit scientific; bone mass, academic performance and information processing. Well, the truth is that being active is fun! If we want our children to develop healthy habits for life then those habits have to be something rewarding. It doesn’t matter what it is. When they love and enjoy, it, when it makes them laugh and smile, when they want to do it again then who cares about the science; they certainly don’t! Life is for living and there’s so much fun to be had through being active.
My next Active Kids blog will look at HOW to tempt them out of the door!
photo credits all drjulietmcgrattan.com