3 Important - and Unexpected - Benefits of Physical Activity for Kids
We all have heard the message that it’s important to maintain a physically active lifestyle, right!? This is true no matter what age we consider, but let’s look at physical activity in childhood. When talking about the importance of activity in childhood, we need to consider a few questions.
Why is regular physical activity important for kids? There are so many reasons kids need to engage in regular activity, such as decreased risk for disease, as well as improved strength, stamina, and mood. However, let's highlight three of the more surprising reasons kids need to be active.
1. Improved Physical Literacy This is an important concept that is defined as the ability of an individual to move with motor proficiency, competence, and confidence in various activities and environments. Regular physical activity exposes a child to many gross motor exercises improving their overall physical literacy. When a child has high levels of physical literacy, they are more likely to be active across the lifespan. Why? This is because we tend to naturally seek out what we enjoy and what we do well. Makes sense, right? Activities to encourage high levels of physical literacy include bear crawls, skipping, hopping, jumping, playground play, such as monkey bars, as well as ball work (think catching, throwing, kicking).
2. Bone Health Exercise is a significant contributor to strengthening bone, especially during childhood. Keep in mind, TYPE of exercise matters! Research has shown the most effective exercise to improve bone health includes weight bearing, high impact, and strengthening exercises. Running and jumping, as well as squats and pushups are great exercises to incorporate into your child’s daily activity for bone health. If you want an added challenge, try exercises such as burpees, jumping on and off a box, or jumping rope.
3. Brain Development Emerging research is indicating the powerful effects of regular activity on brain development in youth! Research has shown that as a function of exercise, important brain structures and chemistry change, allowing a child to process, retain, and retrieve information better. Exercise may also result in increased focus and attention for a given task, resulting in improved academic performance. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported, “There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic performance including grades and standardized test scores.” Fit kids are truly smarter kids!
So, the next question you may be asking (and we're so glad you asked) is, “How much activity do kids need?” According to the Department of Health and Human Services Youth Physical Activity Guidelines, kids between the ages of 6 to 17 years should perform a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity DAILY. For our younger ones, 3+ hours daily may be recommended, including structured and unstructured play-based activity. Remember, this doesn’t have to be performed in one bout, but rather can be an accumulation of physical activity throughout the day.
Lastly, let’s talk about how you as a parent can promote activity with your kids. There are 2 main ways to do this. First, provide the opportunity for you and your family to be active. How? You can access KidStrong University at any time of the day for amazing family and Brain + Body workouts! You can also set up a home ninja course, go hiking or biking as a family, or go for an after lunch/dinner family walk. These may be obvious examples, but the bigger idea is ensuring the activity happens, daily. Consider it a non-negotiable form of medication. Put it on your schedule. Make it a priority and make it happen.
Second, be an active role model for your child. There is so much power in observation! Your kids ARE watching you! Be sure to take the time you need as a parent to participate in your own favorite activity. Educate your kids on what you are doing and why it is important to you.
In providing your kids with active opportunities and demonstrating an active lifestyle yourself, your child is more likely to adopt this healthy behavior now and across their lifespan.