Exercise for children
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill, briskly walking, jogging or lifting weights. But for children, exercise means playing and being physically active. It is obvious that they are exercising when they have a gym class or physical training in school, playing cricket or at a dance class. They are also exercising when they are at recess, riding bikes, just running about or playing hide and seek. Like adults, kids need exercise. Most children need at least an hour of physical activity every day.
There are numerous benefits of regular healthy exercise for children. Active children have stronger muscles, bones and joints, a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat, feel less stressed, feel more ready to learn in school, sleep better at night, show improved psychological well-being including more self-confidence and higher self-esteem. In addition now there is excellent medical evidence that exercise in early years is known to decrease the risk of developing diabetes, lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, prevent strokes and reduce the risks for certain types of cancer. Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits. Inactive children are also likely to become inactive adults which tend to perpetuate the negative connotations of a sedentary life.
The percentage of overweight and obese children and teens has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Although many factors contribute to this epidemic, one cardinal factor that contributes to this problem is a sedentary lifestyle. It is well known that children are becoming more sedentary in the world of today. In other words, they are sitting around a lot more than they used to. It has been assessed that the average child is watching about 3 hours of television a day and spends over 5 hours on all screen media such as television, videos and computers, combined. As kids spend more time watching TV, they spend less time running and playing. Parents can set a good example by being active themselves. Exercising together can be fun for everyone. Competitive sports can help kids stay fit. Walking or biking to school, dancing, bowling and yoga are some other ways for kids to get exercise.
Parents need to ensure that their children get enough exercise. So, how much is enough? All kids 2 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. Infants and young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time, certainly no more than 1 hour unless they’re sleeping. School-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours. 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 playing video games. Most authoritative accounts recommend that children under the age of 2 years watch no TV at all and that screen time should be limited to no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming a day for children 2 years and older.
Endurance is developed when children regularly engage in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for continuous 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. Examples of aerobic activities include basketball, bicycling, cricket, soccer, swimming, tennis, brisk walking, jogging and running.
Improving strength does not have to mean lifting weights. Although some children benefit from weightlifting, it should be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who works with them. But most kids do not need a formal weight-training program to be strong. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Children also incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle. In addition, stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Children look for opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy which is just out of reach, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
For parents there are some tips for raising physically active and fit children. It is useful to help your child participate in a variety of activities that are age-appropriate. Try to establish a regular schedule for physical activity and incorporate activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Parents should embrace a healthier lifestyle themselves so that they would be a positive role model for the family. Most importantly, it is best to keep it fun, so that they could count on the children to come back for more. Many parents worry that their children are uncoordinated or overweight. All children, even less-coordinated ones, need to be physically active. Activity may be particularly helpful for the physical and psychological well-being of children with a weight problem.
Team sports can boost children’s self-esteem, coordination, general fitness and help them learn how to work with other kids and adults. However, some children are not natural athletes and they may tell you, directly or indirectly, that they just do not like sports. Not every child has to join a team and with enough other activities, kids can be fit without them. It is always useful to try to find out why a child is not interested in sport. It might be possible to help address deeper concerns or steer the child toward something else. Though many sports programmes are available for preschoolers, it is not until about age 6 or 7 that most children have the physical skills, the attention span and the ability to grasp the rules needed to play organized sports. Some of them who have not had much practice in a specific sport might need time to reliably perform necessary skills such as kicking a soccer ball on the run or hitting a ball thrown with a cricket bat. Practicing with a child at home always helps. This will provide the child an opportunity to build skills and fitness in a safe environment. The child can try, and even possibly fail, new things without the self-consciousness of being around peers. As a bonus, the parents would get a good dose of quality time together.
In a team sport, a child who is already a reluctant athlete might feel extra-nervous when the coach barks out orders or the league focuses heavily on winning. As children get older, they can handle more competitive aspects such as keeping score and keeping track of wins and losses. Some may be motivated by competitive play, but most are not quite ready for the increased pressure until they are about 11 or 12 years old. It is important to remember that even in more competitive leagues, the atmosphere should remain positive and supportive for all the participants.
Children who are not natural athletes or are a little shy might be uncomfortable with the pressure of being on a team. More self-conscious kids also might worry about letting their parents, coaches, or team-mates down. This is especially true if a child is still working on basic skills and if the league is very competitive. It is desirable to keep expectations within reality. The vast majority of child athletes do not go on to become Olympic medallists or get sports scholarships. The crunch is to let the child know that the goal is to be fit and have fun. If the coach or league does not agree, it is probably time to look for something new.
Anyhow, before starting on any sport or fitness programme, it would be a good idea for a child to have a thorough physical examination by a qualified doctor. Children with undiagnosed medical conditions, visual or hearing problems and other possible handicaps may have difficulties with certain types of sport.
It is also quite important to appreciate that different children mature at different rates. Thus a wide range of heights, weights, and athletic abilities should be expected among kids of the same age group. A child who is much bigger or smaller than other kids of the same age or less coordinated or not as strong may feel self-conscious and uncomfortable competing with them. Some might also be afraid of getting injured or worried that they cannot keep up. Some who are overweight might be reluctant to participate in a sport while a child with asthma might feel more comfortable with sports that require short outputs of energy.
It is so very useful to give some honest thought to a child’s strengths, abilities, temperament etc. , and find an activity that might be a good match. Some kids are afraid of the ball but may enjoy an activity like running. If a child is overweight, he or she might lack the endurance to run but might enjoy a sport like swimming. A child who is too small for the basketball team may enjoy gymnastics or wrestling. It is always true to say that some children would prefer sports that focus on individual performance rather than teamwork. The goal is to prevent the child from feeling frustrated, wanting to quit and being turned off from sports and physical activity altogether. However, even children who once said they hated sports might learn to like team sports as their skills improve or when they find the right sport.
Even if the going is tough, it is necessary for parents to work with their child to find something active that he or she likes. It is best to try and remain open-minded. Maybe the child is interested in an activity that is not offered at school. If your daughter wants to try tennis, help her find a local set up that she could join. There are quite a few available. Parents need to be patient if a child has difficulty choosing and sticking to an activity. It often takes several tries before kids find one that feels like the right fit. But when something clicks, you will be glad that you invested the time and effort. For your child, it is one big step forward towards developing active habits that can last a lifetime. All that effort is well worth it for the reward of a life time of good health for your child.
The writer would appreciate feedback from the readers. Please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org