Guest blog by Mary Costa P.E. teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Mansfield, TX.
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym, running on a treadmill, or lifting weights. But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes, or when playing tag.
Being overweight or obese in childhood has become a serious problem. Many things add to this epidemic, but a big part of it is that kids are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they’re sitting around a lot more than they used to.
Kids and teens now spend hours every day in front of a screen (TVs, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) looking at a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). Too much screen time and not enough physical activity add to the problem of childhood obesity.
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 parents get active with their children! Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. Kids who are active will:
- have stronger muscles and bones
- have a leaner body
- be less likely to become overweight
- decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
- have a better outlook on life
A whole-family approach simply means that everyone — parents and kids alike — works together as a team to achieve good health and wellness! Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better. They’re also better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements of their fitness. (Endurance, Strength, Flexibility)
Endurance develops when kids regularly get aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for extended periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Aerobic activities include:
Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Instead, kids can do push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises to help tone and strengthen muscles. They also improve their strength when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids get chances every day to stretch when they reach for a toy, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
Healthy, physically active kids also are more likely to be academically motivated, alert, and successful. It is proven that physical competence builds self-esteem at every age. One report, completed by the American Heart Association, stated the following:
- A review of 14 studies has demonstrated that the more physically active schoolchildren are, the better they do academically.
- One US test program at Naperville Central High School powerfully illustrated this point two years ago. Students who participated in a dynamic morning exercise program nearly doubled their reading scores while math scores increased 20-fold.
- Exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. This is true for all age groups.
- To get your kids moving, limit the amount of time your child spends watching TV or playing computer and video games, and to replace these sedentary activities with active ones. Overweight and obese children need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, and may benefit from closer to 60 minutes.
- High-intensity interval training is the ideal form of exercise for children. Intermittent bouts of activity with pauses in between is entirely natural for the human body, and kids will spontaneously resort to this type of activity when left to their own devices.
The results do show that physical activity may be an important part of keeping children’s brains active and open to learning. Physical education class and recess may be just as important to doing well in school as time spent in a classroom.