The Importance of Physical Activity for Children

The Importance of Physical Activity for Children

Overview:

Children seem to be exercising less – sad but true. Making parents aware of the importance of physical activity for kids is essential to reverse this worrisome trend. This blog throws light on the many benefits of physical activity.

 Kids need to play. The benefits of both structured and unstructured play are boundless. Yet, many studies have proved that children’s activity level now has gone down by almost 50% compared to the children of the 1970s.

Children are naturally inclined to play. So, what is stopping them?

The Decline of Physical Activity and Free Play

  • Academic pressureis one thing that cannot be ignored. Pressure from the school, teachers and parents to perform well, ties children to their books and what is invariably sacrificed is their play time.
  • Social media constantly bombards parents with videos of kids reading, writing and performing other activities at a young age. There are so many checkboxes parents feel the pressure to tick and these pressures and expectations are transferred to the kids.
  • Electronic gadgets are no doubt one of the main culprits and its commonplace nowadays to see small kids glued to mobile phones and tablets. Giving children mobile phones to keep them quiet is definitely an easy way of managing them while also keeping them under their parents’ eyes but at what cost? Unstructured play and physical activity are not the only two things that are compromised. Mobile phone usagehas been associated with eye strain, bad posture, obesity and mental health issues.
  • Safety is another reason why children are kept indoors. Parents nowadays are also more aware than before when it comes to their kids’ safety, a good thing no doubt, but sometimes some parents also kick into overdrive and do not let their children out of their sight. Keeping them at home to keep them safe is not the right thing to do.

Let Them Play!

From the time a child turns 5, parents need to see to it that he/she gets at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Parents can choose to enroll kids in some sporting activity or it could even be unstructured play outside but an hour of vigorous activity is ideal.

A few of the many benefits of physical activity are listed below:

  • Strengthens the Heart:Cardiovascular fitness greatly improves with physical activity and the sooner we start, the better. Why wait for a condition to strike to address it? When we make physical activity a part and parcel of our kids’ lives, they will not only grow into healthy adults but will also be conditioned to exercise through adulthood. Exercise lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol and brings down the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Improves Lung Capacity:Regular exercise enhances lung activity. As a result, more oxygen is drawn in and more carbon-di-oxide and other gases are expelled. The long-term benefit is that when we grow older, the natural decline in oxygen intake that occurs with age is reduced.
  • Diminishes Diabetes Risk:With India having the dubious distinction of being the diabetes capital of the world, steps to prevent the condition need to start from childhood itself. Diabetes among children too is on the rise. Regular exercise prevents sugar accumulation by making the muscles take up the sugar for energy. Studies have shown that physical activity with a healthy diet can prevent diabetes.
  • Increases Bone Density:Exercise plays a key role in increasing bone density. Bone density will increase from childhood till a person reaches his 20s. After that it remains stable till around 50 years and then starts to decrease. This is why elderly people are more susceptible to fractures. Hence, if we are to stay healthy and strong in our older years, exercising as kids to increase bone density as much as possible is imperative.
  • Prevents/Treats Childhood Obesity: While tackling childhood obesity requires a multi-pronged approach, physical activity is a key factor in that approach. Childhood obesity comes with an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions later on in life.
  • Improves Mental Well-Being: Studies have shown a visible improvement in children’s mood and behaviour with regular exercise. Physical activity releases the happy hormone endorphin and children after an exercise session are notably happier. Studies have also shown that regular physical activity decreases anxiety and depression in children, improves self-esteem and boosts cognitive skills.
  • Improves Social Skills: When kids play with other kids they learn important social skills like leadership, team work and conflict resolution which will help them later in life.

Parents’ Role

  • Children love to do activities with their parents. Do set some time aside every week to engage your children in some physical activity you can all enjoy as a family.
  • When possible, choose the active way over the easy way. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to shops in your area.
  • Introduce your kids to nature activities like trekking. Reward them when they complete a particularly difficult activity; praise them for their effort.
  • Reduce television and mobile phone time. No binge watching – if there is a program they are keen on watching, let them watch just that one and then make sure they turn it off after that. Also, televisions in bedrooms are best avoided. Remember, if as parents you are watching too much TV (or mobile), your kid will most likely not adhere to the restrictions you place on them so it is important to practice what you preach.
  • Not all kids will like organized team sports. Try out activities like dancing, martial arts, etc. There are a plethora of options nowadays – keep trying and you will eventually find one your child enjoys. It is very important that the child enjoys the activity as this means you won’t have to push him/her to do it.
  • Children who are not athletically inclined may need additional motivation to get moving. These kids may be embarrassed or self-conscious when they have to play with others who they feel are better than them. Praise them for their efforts however small and remember to never nag, criticize or compare them.
  • If you are having trouble initiating your child into a physical activity, try to get their friends to join in. Make the experience fun.

What to Do If Your Child Is Disinterested in Physical Activity?

Some children avoid physical activity in spite of parents pushing them to it. There may be a number of reasons for this. Do not deem the child lazy. Instead, delve deeper to find out why. It could be that the child is just too shy for team sports or maybe he/she needs to find an activity that is interesting enough to pursue. Parents need to be open-minded and patient.

Physical activity is not something that can be compromised on. Just like education is a priority, so is physical activity. Not having time for physical activity is not an acceptable excuse. We need to make time for it – the benefits are too many to ignore.

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