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How to Pump Up Physical Activity With Your Children

And the many benefits of having physically active kids.



It will likely not come as a surprise to learn that most children do not get enough physical exercise. It is recommended that school-age children participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. In fact, less than 25 percent of our children reach this goal.

There are several reasons that children may have difficulty getting enough exercise. Children are spending increasingly more time on computers, gaming systems and cell phones. Safety concerns also exist today that were not so prevalent when I grew up. I remember regularly playing with neighborhood friends at a nearby park for hours at a time. We were not supervised. Today, parents supervise children much more closely. And, whether out of necessity, or due to choice, fewer parents are staying home to be fulltime parents, so it can be difficult to fit physical activities into their busy daily routines.

There are numerous important health benefits for physically active children. Exercise aids in growth and development, and improves posture and balance. Physical activity also increases the strength of bones, muscles and joints. Physically active children also have fewer problems with obesity. There is less risk of type 2 diabetes. Exercise also reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. Physical activity lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It also improves sleep. Physical activity is also beneficial to brain development. Physical activity improves children’s focus and concentration in school, and is linked to higher reading and math scores. It has also been connected to improved behavior, both at home, and at school. Physical activity helps children deal with physical and emotional challenges. It decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression, improves self-esteem, and decreases stress. An additional noteworthy advantage is that active children frequently become active adults!    

As a teacher, I often hear parents complain that children aren’t active enough at school. At the elementary school where I teach, there is a daily 15-minute recess, and Physical Education class is offered every other day. Many parents would like to see recess times extended, especially because of the notable physical and academic benefits. The problem is that teachers already find it impossible to squeeze all of the academic requirements into the school day.

What can parents do to help children get enough physical exercise if they’re not getting it at school? Perhaps the most important thing is to identify activities that would be fun for their children. When choosing activities, consider that some, such as team sports, have the added benefits of providing social interaction and learning new skills. Play is how children get their exercise. They don’t go work out at the gym for an hour. Be sure to incorporate various types of fun activities, so children get aerobic benefits as well as gain strength and flexibility.

Aerobic activity occurs with continuous movement of large muscle groups. It helps to strengthen the heart. Children will work up a sweat when participating in aerobic activity. This type of movement can be found in many sports. Perhaps your child would enjoy a soccer or basketball team. Other activities that provide a good aerobic workout include skating, swimming, dancing, gymnastics, tennis and martial arts. Hiking, riding bicycles, and playing tag are additional possibilities to consider.

Strength training is accomplished when working against a resistance. This builds strong muscles and bones. It also promotes good posture. How do children accomplish this? Playing on the monkey bars and gymnastics are terrific options. Parents can also assist at home by having children rake leaves and carry in groceries. Take the stairs with your children instead of using the elevator.

Activities focused on flexibility involve bending and stretching. This type of activity improves posture, increases relaxation, and reduces the risk of injuries. Children may enjoy rock-wall climbing, dance, gymnastics and playing on a playground to achieve improved flexibility.

Our Oklahoma summer and early fall can be extremely hot. When participating in outdoor activities, be sure to provide plenty of water breaks for your children. Practice other safety precautions, such as using sunblock, and wearing hats and sunglasses. Make sure children have properly fitting safety equipment for their activities.  

Parents also can help their children become more active by limiting screen times. This allows for increased sleep and active time. Parents can be good role models for their children by incorporating physical activity into their own lives. Create longer walks by parking further away from your destinations, and use stairs instead of elevators. Find activities that you and your children can enjoy together, whether it’s a neighborhood game of tag, parent/child softball, bike riding, swimming or taking a martial arts class together, both you and your child will benefit.

Remember, keep it fun!

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