The Importance of Physical Activity in Kids
As kids grow older, it can be a challenge for them to get enough daily activity.
This can be due to increasing demands at school, a feeling among some kids that they aren’t good at sports or a lack of active role models.
In spite of these barriers, parents can teach a love of physical activity and help kids fit it into their everyday lives. Doing so can set healthy patterns that will last into adulthood.
This is according to Anca Wessels, a Momentum Multiply expert in Biokinetics and Sports Massage Therapy. She says that young people of all ages require daily physical activity to ensure their healthy growth and development. “Physical activity is very important for all of us, but especially so for kids and young people.”
“In addition to improving their cardiovascular fitness, strengthening their bones and muscles, and reducing the risk of heart disease, creating healthy habits around physical activity from a young age will stay with your kids throughout their lives, setting them up for a healthier future.”
Pediasure South Africa notes that: “Physical activity plays an important role in developing the brain and supporting essential mental functions. It also helps release growth factors, chemicals in the brain that affect the growth and survival of new brain cells as well as blood vessels in the area.
“Physical activity also improves focus, school performance, sleep and energy levels. Exercise leads to improved motor skills (such as hand-eye coordination), better thinking and problem-solving, stronger attention skills and improved learning. The simple act of playing outside with friends, setting non-academic goals and seeing progress can help the brain refocus when it is time for school work.”
A 2017 study, Exercise may prevent depression in middle childhood, concluded that moderate to vigorous physical activity at ages 6 and 8 is linked to fewer symptoms of depression two years later.
While they may be beneficial in getting your children moving, some parents are still struggling with kids who prefer screen time rather than physical activities.
However, experts say one of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or other screens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents:
- Put limits on the time spent using media, which includes TV, social media and video games. Media should not take the place of getting enough sleep and being active.
- Limit screen time to one hour a day or less for children 2 to 5 years old.
- Discourage any screen time, except video-chatting, for kids younger than 18 months.
When it comes to children, what counts as a “workout” – how much is enough? Wessels says that kids and teens between the ages of 6 and 17 should get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. “These activities should include a combination of aerobic movements, strengthening exercises and stretches. A variety of exercises is essential to ensure a variety of muscles being used,” she notes, offering some examples of well-known exercises and stretches to incorporate.
Samantha Clayton, the vice president of Sports Performance and Fitness Education at Herbalife Nutrition, says there are many ways to keep kids active such as, “planning local hiking trips or long walks or bike rides close to home. Enjoy the local parks and embrace the architecture in the neighborhood.
“A quick Google search of interesting facts can help you to plan what you want to go and see. Being a tourist in your own city will help you have a greater appreciation for your hometown. If you have kids, try setting up a challenge for them to identify certain plants, landmarks or wildlife when you’re out walking. It will make the walks more engaging. Having prizes ready for them helps with the motivation, too. Additionally, backyard games are a blast — sprinklers, hula-hoops and jump rope are things kids love.”
When it comes to unwilling teens, Wessels says: “As kids get older, it becomes more difficult to get them moving. For stubborn teens, a potential way around this is to incentivize them. Set up weekly goals for them to complete, and they earn rewards such as cash or treats for being healthy, active and safe.”
“Another fun way is to find something that excites them, like creating mini soccer goals or encouraging them to learn a fast-paced popular dance routine on YouTube or TikTok that they can share with their friends.”
When your child sees how fun it is to be able to dance, jump, walk, run, stretch and play, they are more likely to want to continue enjoying being active throughout their life.