Natalie Milverton – Exercise Physiologist
Movement matters for everyone, at every stage of life, none more important than childhood. We know that childhood is a time for significant growth and development that can set the trajectory for future health. Children who are regularly active are more likely to carry these habits into adulthood. While we know many friends who move more merely because they know it’s good for their health, enjoyment is key for children to build exercise into a long-lasting habit.
It’s easy enough to assume children get enough active minutes into their day when you see them running about with an endless reserve of energy because, lets face it, children are very active by nature. However, current government guidelines suggest otherwise with 1 in 4 children aged 5-12 years meeting the physical activity guidelines of 60-minutes of moderate-vigorous activity every day, reducing to 1 in 10 for those between 13-17 years.
Regular exercise helps create and maintain strong muscles, bones and joints while also acting as an important stepping stone for social connections, allowing meaningful friendships to flourish, to learn about defeat and join a team. Surely, we all know a time when, either ourselves, a sibling or our own children, came home and expressed with great certainty that they wanted to play basketball or dance just because their friends were.
The social flare and movement
Engaging in regular sporting and physical activities encourages healthy behaviour skills, self-confidence and communication. Team sports create an atmosphere that teaches kids to be inclusive of others from different backgrounds, to persevere in the face of defeat and to cheer on teammates for doing their best, which can redirect the focus of movement from a ‘win at all costs’ attitude to a ‘well, we lost but that was fun’ outlook! With sporting endeavours comes the chance to create lifelong friendships and memories, remember the fun you had at the end of season disco or how chuffed you felt when you received the “Most Improved” award! We like to associate sport with physical strength and fortitude but the social opportunities and potential to reduce anti-social behaviour are just as important to a child’s development.
The body and movement
The physical benefits of regular exercise for children are as numerous as they are for adults. Benefits range from strengthening the muscles, bones, and joints, encouraging some heavy breathing for cardiorespiratory fitness and nurturing the development of motor control to developing eye-hand coordination and body awareness. We tend to associate strengthening activities with lifting weights at the gym, however for children, playground antics between recess bells – tug-of-war, hopscotch, swinging or climbing over equipment and organised sports such as football, netball, and cricket – are enough to encourage strong muscles and bones. We know it’s never too late to start exercising, but did you know that participating in impact-based sports (e.g. netball, volleyball or tennis) during the developmental years is shown to positively influence bone density levels later in life. Sports characterised by some huff and puff develops cardiovascular fitness, and can be found in running sports and swimming, the latter being encouraged for asthmatics as the warm and humid environment helps alleviate airway constriction and promotes good breathing techniques.
The mind and movement
Regular movement and exercise are an important part of mental and emotional wellbeing in children, just as it is for adults. Sporting clubs can create a sense of community, allowing children and adolescents to burn up any excess energy or stress in a supportive setting, which can reduce feelings of anxiety and tension, promote positive sleep habits and sharpen memory and concentration. From here, it is easy to see the link between movement and how we think, feel and see the world. Lessons learnt on the sporting field or training track can also aid childrens’ mental resilience and determination when dealing with loses or negative experiences, all inevitable happenings of everyday life.
Raising lively children is about encouraging daily active time for exercise, offering a variety of movement activities, making movement fun so the kids come back for more and embracing an active lifestyle as a parent and family. Being active is also about reducing the time children spend engaging in sedentary activities; if you’re stuck on inspiration or need a little variation to help your children move through life, have a read of the “Sporting Activities for Kids” blog on our Beyond website!
Next time the thought of dropping the children off to another footy game on a cold Sunday morning makes you shiver with dread, consider what our children do today will shape the adults they become tomorrow. Help today’s children jump start into a healthy and active life by encouraging their participation in the sport and recreational activities that give them confidence, supportive friendships and lots of good memories!