The Importance of Exercise for Children

While almost no one would dare dispute the importance of physical exercise for adults nowadays, many grown-ups might think that built-in daily exercise routines are unnecessary for children, given children’s general propensity for moving around a lot. But the fact is that regular exercise offers as many benefits for children as it does for adults.

To begin with, the United States is currently experiencing an epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity like never before. The percentage of overweight and obese children and teens has more than doubled in the past 30 years. According to the CDC, one in three children in the US now falls under the category of overweight or obese. The culprits are the explosion of entertainment media in the last few decades, as well as the modern diets that many American families consume, which include more processed, nutrient-depleted foods, as well as foods higher in fat and sugar.

Regarding our more sedentary modern lifestyles, American children between the ages of eight and eighteen spend a whopping seven hours every day using screen media (TV, videos, DVD’s, leisure computer use, and video games). Four and a half hours of this is spent in front of the television, in an age when TV channel choices number in the dozens and hundreds, for the first time ever. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years of age watch no television at all; children older than two should be limited to 1-2 hours a day of quality programming.

There are hugely important and long-lasting reasons to switch children from hours of daily sedentary entertainment, to daily physical activity.

Children who exercise regularly are typically healthy and emotionally well-adjusted. Frequent exercise helps:

  • strengthen bones and muscles (thus helping to prevent injuries)
  • manage weight and produce a leaner body
  • reduce health risks, including the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer
  • relieve stress
  • children sleep better (just like it does for adults)

A study done in Germany showed that atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) begins in childhood, especially in children who are obese.

In today’s more demanding world, where children have to juggle school, chores, social activities, church, and maybe sports, regular exercise can help reduce stress and make children better-equipped to handle physical and emotional challenges. Parents who make the effort to get children accustomed to daily exercise are starting healthy habits that will likely stay with their children for life!

There are three recognized components of physical fitness: endurance, strength, and flexibility.

  1. Endurance: it is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. When done regularly and for extended periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to carry oxygen to all its cells. Aerobic exercise can be obtained through: cycling; roller-skating; playing basketball, soccer, or tennis; swimming; walking.
  2. Strength: increasing strength in children does not have to involve lifting weights, as it often does for adults. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, climbing, and other similar exercises help tone and strengthen muscles.
  3. Flexibility: stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move through their full range of motions.

While it’s true that younger children usually are active enough in their regular daily routines, health and fitness experts recommend that school-age children get a good hour of structured physical activity a day, which can be broken up into shorter segments.

Remember to complement your child’s exercise routine by feeding them healthy foods — lots of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy starches — and plenty of water!