The Benefits of Physical Activity for Children in the 21st Century
The benefits of physical activity for children remain the same today just as they have been for centuries. Consistent physical wellness keeps the body healthy and fends off numerous infectious and non-communicable illnesses. These include cardiovascular diseases such as heart complications and stroke, respiratory diseases, cancers, and diabetes.
Physical wellness is receiving renewed interest in the 21st Century because of the invasive challenges created by technology, and space limitation caused by urbanization. The use of digital contraptions has made humanity adopt an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle, and the lack of sufficient living spaces means there is less room for children to play outdoors.
Sobering statistics about physical activity for children:
- Children who are physically inactive will most likely become inactive adults
- Less than 24 percent of children aged 6 to 17 are physically active for the stipulated minimum of 60-minutes
- On average, the modern-day urban children spend more than 7 hours in front of the TV and computer
So, what is physical wellness?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical activity is
any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure … Physical activity includes exercise as well as other activities which involve bodily movement and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities.
The art of physical wellness can be grouped loosely into three categories: active play, organized sport and active transportation:
Active play is the unstructured mode of play where children crawl, run, jump, climb trees, dance, or even swim. This can happen indoors and outdoors.
Organized sport is a structured model of play with set rules which involve more than just one child or youth. Organized sports include football, netball, baseball, and other related forms of sporting activities outdoors and at school.
Active transportation involves body-powered forms of movement such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, canoeing, swimming, and skating. These kinds of physical activities are preferably done outdoors.
As per WHO Global recommendations on physical activity,
Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.’(MVPA)
While 60 minutes looks achievable, not as many children get to do it, especially those that dwell in urban areas, because of space and other limitations explained above. This situation is not getting any better given the projected acceleration of urbanization around the world. While only 53% of the global population lives in cities today, the number is projected to hit 68%, or more by 2050! This is according to the United Nations.
Here are Just a Few of the Benefits of Physical Activity for Children
Aerobics and other forms of physical exertions are advised to enhance cognitive, social, and creative skills in children. This even as they juggle their way inside the expanding digital landscape and crammed neighborhoods.
Well, if you are a parent and have your children caught up in the cycle of inactivity, below are reasons to get them running again.
1. Physical Wellness is Fantastic for the Brain
Health experts everywhere agree that physical activity is fantastic for brain development, overall health, and mental excellence. And for good reasons:
Medium-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is known to increase blood flow to the brain, to facilitate the supply of much-needed oxygen and nutrients. These are invaluable in boosting the growth of the brain while improving memory and mental wellness.
The brain in young children is undergoing tremendous and rapid changes in early childhood. From birth to 5 years, the brain develops extensively in response to the environment, sleep, physical activity, nutrition, human interactions, and everything else positive and negative. Sustained MVPA, or lack of it, will prepare young children to excel or fail in life and academics. The consequences will stretch up to adulthood.
Physical wellness couple with good nutrition, favorable environment, and sufficient sleep, ensures the brain is stimulated enough to grow at per with the rest of the body.
Finally, a good amount of physical wellness throughout life helps to slow down the aging of the brain! In fact, regular physical activity can reduce aging by up to 10 years! Physical wellness is also known to keep dementia (Alzheimer’s disease) out of the way.
2. Great for Appetite
Yes, young children can become quite picky eaters or out-right impossible on the dinner table, which is annoying.
Apart from trying out a few sneaky tricks to get your child to eat again, you can smuggle in physical activity, as a catalyzer. Children need 60 minutes of physical activity every single day, for proper growth. Of course, more is better. When they indulge in these activities the body will regularly demand more energy in order to keep going.
What happens is that the level of Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) in the stomach will increase as glucose is used up. This will alert the brain to trigger a hunger spike, forcing the child to develop the urge to eat. This should just about get your child back to the dining table.
On a healthy note, the burning of glucose is good news since it helps reduce sugar levels in the body.
You can also use this opportunity to smuggle in nutritious serving your child dislikes. After a physical marathon and hunger, your child will readily eat whatever is served on the dinner table.
3. Great for Body Growth
Consistent physical activity is known to strengthen the bones, muscles, and heart. This is important for overall physical endurance. Consistent physical wellness energizes the bones and muscles and helps children maintain lean bodies.
During the first years of life, child and body growth is manifested in what is known as growth spurt, where the child actually grows in height and weight. The growth also takes place inside the body as different body organs grow in size. For this growth to happen as per the recommended development milestones, the child should also get sufficient sleep, in addition to physical wellness.
You should be concerned, however, when your child becomes overweight even after sustained physical activities. This could be a sign of bad eating habits or genetic anomaly. In extreme cases, it may require prompt medical attention.
4. Important for Emotional Wellbeing
Emotional stress and depression are synonymous with all children. It brings down even the very strong amongst us. Preparing children to deal with mental challenges is, therefore, a very important skill.
Children are more vulnerable to emotional challenges than adults simply because they lack the necessary experience. Adults handle emotions better because of age-long experience.
Physical activity is one way children get to prepare for emotional and other challenges in life.
There is clear evidence of psychological wellness in most people who are physically active. They are less prone to extended effects of depression and anxiety and somehow tend to get out of the ‘depression room’ faster.
According to American Psychological Association,
We now understand much more about effective strategies for reducing stress responses. Such beneficial strategies include: …Engaging in regular physical exercise.
In addition, physical exercise is instrumental in fighting boredom, improving confidence and self-esteem, factors that are crucial in emotional development.
5. Great for Overall Health
The overall health of a child is a reflection of mental, physical, emotional, and social wellness, and starts very early in life. It also helps reduce the onset of illnesses, and in many cases. eradicates others completely.
The following and many other illnesses are neutralized with life-long physical activities:
- heart disease
- type-2 diabetes
- blood pressure
- body posture
- sleep disorder
- regulates the sedentary lifestyle
Besides keeping diseases at bay, here are the other benefits of physical activity for children:
- keeps children away from the TV, computer and game consoles – at least for a few hours!
- is a good enabler for socialization
- creates opportunities for physical skills in sports and games
Reference on the benefits of physical activity for children:
- WHO Physical Inactivity Facts
- Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity, and Diet in UK – 2018
- 60 Minutes of Physical Activity for Children
- Facts and Statistics of physical Activity in the US
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