The Benefits of Physical Activity for Young Children in the 21st Century
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Sobering statistics about physical activity for young children indicate that those who are physically inactive will most likely become inactive adults, and less than 24 percent of children aged 6 to 17 are physically active for the stipulated minimum of 60-minutes. On average, children spend more than 7 hours in front of the TV and computer.
The benefits of physical activity for the human body remain the same today just as they have been for centuries. Consistent physical wellness is known to keep the body healthy and fend off the growing number of non-communicable diseases. 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 urbanization. The use of digital contraptions has made humanity adopt a worrisome sedentary lifestyle, and lack of sufficient living spaces means there is less room for play and sporting activities. This comes with its share of health implications, mentioned above, and is unfortunately not sparing young children.
Aerobic and other forms of physical exertions are also advised in order to enhance cognitive, physical, social and creative skills in children. This even as they juggle their way inside the expanding digital landscape and crammed neighborhoods.
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 playtime for children where they crawl, run, jump, climb trees, dance or even swim. This can happen indoors or outdoors.
Organized sport is a structured model of play which may include set rules which involves more than just one child or youth. The sport from football, netball, baseball, tor any other related form of sport outdoors or at school.
Active transportation involves body-powered forms of movement such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, canoeing, and skating. This kind of physical activity for children is 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. And the situation is not getting any better given the projected acceleration of urbanization world over.
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.
Ultimately open spaces and playgrounds for playtime are getting smaller and very few parents are willing to send kids outdoors for fear of violence and criminality. Instead, parents promote a sedentary lifestyle by letting the little ones sit hours on end playing computer games and watching movies.
At the end of the day, children are involved in minimal physical exertion in comparison to their counterparts 50 years ago.
Here is Why Physical Activity for Children is Important
Well, if you are a parent and are caught in this inactive mess, it is probably time to get your child up and running.
1. Fantastic for the Brain
Health experts around the globe agree that physical activity is fantastic for brain development, overall health, and mental excellence. And for good reasons:
First and foremost, 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, it 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 both life and academics. The consequences will stretch up to adulthood.
It is imperative therefore to nurture the brain positively from birth, in order to ensure a lasting mental impact.
Besides the nutritional needs, environment, and sufficient sleep, physical wellness ensures the brain is continuously stimulated to grow at per with the rest of the body, and avoid dementia – with Alzheimer’s disease top of the list.
Finally, good amount of physical wellness throughout life helps to slow down the brain from aging fast! In fact, regular physical activity can reduce aging by up to 10 years!
So, why not prepare your child from early on?
2. Great for Appetite
It is no secret that making children eat correctly is a puzzle many parents have to deal with on a regular basis. Yes, young children can become quite picky or out-right impossible when they choose not to eat. It annoys.
Apart from trying out a few sneaky tricks to get your child to eat again, you can smuggle in physical activity, if you have not been doing it. Children need a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every single day for proper growth. Of course, more is better. When they indulge in these activities the body naturally demands more energy in order to keep going.
What happens is that the level of Ghrelin 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. Ghrelin, also called the hunger hormone is released by the stomach to stimulate the appetite.
This should just about get the children back to the dining table.
On a good note and 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 that nutritious serving your child dislikes after the marathon playtime. At the time of exhaustion and hunger, your child will readily eat whatever is served on the dining table.
3. Great for Body Growth
Appropriate and consistent physical activity by kids is instrumental in strengthening the bones, muscles and the heart. This allows them to accomplish both mental and physical chores with improved endurance and less strain. Consistent physical wellness energizes their bones and muscles and helps children maintain leaner and better-looking bodies.
During the first years of life, body growth is usually manifested in what is known as a growth spurt, where the child actually grows in height and weight. For this growth to happen as per the recommended development milestones, the child should also get sufficient sleep during the night.
You should concerned be concerned, however, when the child becomes overweight even after sustained daily physical activities. This could be a sign of bad eating habits, or caused genetically. In extreme cases, it could highlight a medical condition such as hormonal imbalance. This may require prompt medical attention. If unattended to, the child will experience repeated illnesses in the long run and will likely develop heart complications and type-2 diabetes during adulthood.
4. Important for Psychological Wellbeing
Emotional stress and depression are synonymous with every person around the world, and this includes children. It brings down even the very strong amongst us. Learning to deal with them is a very important skill, especially when started early. Children are more emotional than adults simply because they lack the experience which the latter have in dealing with emotions.
That is where physical activity comes in.
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 abating boredom, improving confidence and self-esteem, and the overall wellbeing of mental health.
5. Great for Overall Health
Overall, the health of a child is a reflection of mental, physical, emotional and social wellness, and starts very early in life. The benefits of physical exertion on the health of children is definitely immense. Most important, it helps reduce the onset of illnesses and eradicates others completely.
The following and many other illnesses are neutralised 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, physical wellness provides additional benefits outlined below:
- 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
- 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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