Benefits of children being active

Being active at an early age can lead to a healthy lifestyle for a lifetime.

Physical activity is important for everyone. Not only can it reduce the risk of some diseases, including type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but it keeps our bodies at a healthy weight and benefits our mental health as well. When we exercise, our breathing increases and our heart starts pumping more oxygen-filled blood to our muscles. The increased blood flow also benefits our brain, allowing it to almost immediately function better. As a result, we tend to be more focused after exercise of any kind. Therefore, exercise is one of the best prevention and treatment strategies for depression. Physical exercise actually changes the level of serotonin in the brain by increasing the levels of the “feel good” hormones, or endorphins. Endorphins are well-known for their role in mood control.

There are many reasons why exercise is important for children. According to the American Council on Exercise, the obesity epidemic among children ages 6-19 has reached 15 percent, almost quadruple what it was in the late 1960s. By spending extra time on the playground or participating in a sport, children reap the same benefits resulting in more focus at school and better outlook on relationships and school overall. Physical activity will prevent youth from becoming obese or help them lose weight, as well as teach them healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

The American Council on Exercise lists the following top 10 reasons kids should get plenty of exercise:

  1. Kids who exercise are more likely to keep exercising as an adult.
  2. Exercise helps kids achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  3. Regular physical activity helps build and maintain strong, healthy muscles, bones and joints.
  4. Exercise aids in the development of important interpersonal skills—this is especially true for participation in team sports.
  5. Exercise improves the quantity and quality of sleep.
  6. Research shows exercise promotes improved school attendance and enhances academic performance.
  7. Kids who exercise have greater self-esteem and better self-images.
  8. Participating in regular physical activity prevents or delays the development of many chronic diseases (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension) and promotes health.
  9. Children who are active report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and a better overall mood.
  10. Exercise helps improve motor coordination and enhances the development of various motor performance skills.

Kids runningThe Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children get 60 or more minutes of appropriate physical activity each day. There are three different types of physical activity they should receive on a daily basis.

  1. Aerobic activity: Riding a scooter, bike or going for a brisk walk.
  2. Muscle strengthening: Gymnastics or playing on the jungle gym.
  3. Bone strengthening: Jumping rope, running or playing soccer.

Make sure the physical activity is age-appropriate, enjoyable and offers variety. Appropriate play refers to activities suitable for young children. They do not need to lift weights in a gym because they are strengthening their muscles when they climb a tree or jungle gym.

The following two articles from Michigan State University Extension provides ideas and more information on how to keep our youth physically active and fit:

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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