Why exercise is more important than ever for your kids

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Youth physical activity levels are much lower than 10 or 20 years ago. This is partly due to mobile devices which both out of necessity and distraction, invade our everyday lives. But aside from the digital world we live in, our busy lifestyles are also to blame. Never has there been such pressure on adults to juggle busy working lives and raising young families. For parents, keeping on top of their own physical and mental health is a struggle let alone disrupting the chaos to ensure that kids are getting enough exercise.

Academic pressure on students, job pressure on teachers and lack of physical education funding means that in many cases the levels of physical activity offered within school curriculums is insufficient. Health and safety rules in schools decrease the reign for children to play boisterously at lunchtimes and urbanization means backyards are smaller or non-existent. All of these are barriers to physical exercise as part of a child’s daily routine. So why is this such a big deal? Surely kids burn so much energy just being kids that they don’t need a gym routine to prevent weight gain, right?

Well, not exactly, as there are many additional benefits to exercise. Of course, exercising for one hour per day will lower children’s chance of obesity, but the benefits extend far beyond this.

In fact, greater rates of physical activity have been shown to improve academic performance in both reading and mathematics. Exercise speeds up physical development, which in turn increases mental development by expansion of neural connections in the brain. So, getting regular exercise from a young age is very important for optimizing brain development.

Increasing cardio-respiratory fitness is an obvious benefit of exercise. Not only will it reduce future risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, it will also make daily life tasks such as carrying heavy objects or climbing stairs much easier. Developing muscle strength and bone density through exercise will also help reduce your child’s risk of injury and prevent osteoporosis.

Exercise has been shown to positively impact children’s confidence and self-esteem. These benefits come from learning to accomplish new challenges by moving their bodies as well as their increased sense of confidence that comes with maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise also releases endorphins, these happiness hormones trigger a positive feeling in the body.

By increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise raises concentration levels and attentiveness, making for much happier teachers and parents. This results in a positive cycle of interaction between children and the adults they have contact with.

Exercise helps decrease anxiety levels and promotes feelings of happiness. It is also a good social outlet as it often involves interaction with peers or family members. Taking time out of your busy day to play or exercise with your kids is a great way to make them feel loved and connected.

Of course, these are great intentions but many of us struggle to find the time. The key is to prioritize and let go of that default voice in your head telling you that you should be working extra hours or completing some other seemingly productive task instead. You won’t have the opportunity to influence your child’s development forever, so setting them up for a healthy life is definitely worth a top priority on your to-do list.

Helping your child value exercise starts with setting a good example yourself, with a regular exercise routine and monitoring your habitual use of devices or other sedentary activities. Often, encouraging active kids will mean disrupting a seemingly peaceful home environment when children preoccupied with devices and you have time to accomplish tasks, to go out and do something more energetic. Although a difficult decision, the benefits are worth forgoing the peace and quiet. Active children are more likely to become active adults, so the habits you help them to build now can really set them up for life! You can only hope that having your children exhaust themselves running around outdoors will allow you to return to a quiet and orderly household, along with all the additional benefits of exercise!

patty lee