Here we are coming to the end of summer and back to school reminders are everywhere. Now it would be nice to think the summer months had a large volume of exercise for our children. In some cases this is true, but often summer means more time for kids to watch TV or play video games.
With school starting, what can be and should be expected to keep our kids active and healthy? Over the years, there has been a mountain of research and substantial evidence that physical activity in children is as equally important as their nutrition and education as they grow. Physical activity plays a long-term role in the development of young children and teens alike.
Being active and getting enough exercise is so critical in children that a lack of activity during childhood can lead to some chronic health problems in their adult years. One good example of this came from a study that found low bone density in adults has been linked to a lack of bone development during childhood. Many studies suggest that proper exercise along with appropriate nutrition starting in childhood and continued into adulthood has a direct connection to reduced instances of chronic inflammation, weight gain and metabolic disorders.
With P.E. or Physical Education in our schools scaling back due to budget cuts or made an elective, our kids are faced with less opportunity to stay active during school months. The exception is school sports programs, but keep in mind more kids do not take up school sports then do.
When children get moderate physical activity each day, their muscular systems will produce and release anti-inflammatory substances into their blood. As children put stress on their body through physical activity, they stimulate the production of what is called ROS, or reactive oxygen species. What science and research have found is ROS interacts with various hormones, helping to balance and limit the amount of the inflammation in the body. The reduction of inflammation in young bodies influence their development and overall health positively. When children stay active, using their muscles for movement and lifting, it becomes so beneficial that two things will happen. It will promote proper physical development along with keeping inflammation in check.
As a parent, you should help your children build a foundation of regular exercise and start this as early as preschool or when they are 5 years old. Whether it’s youth soccer, running or just a daily hour of fun, this actual behavior will make a difference. Once your kids reach the age of 7 or 8, kick it up a bit with some sort of essential weight lifting activity to promote bone growth and muscle development. Keep in mind that kids get the same boost to their energy, stress reduction and better sleep as adults do who exercise regularly.
A lack of exercise and poor nutrition contribute directly to the development of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Once obesity and metabolic disorders start in children, it can follow your children as they age. Building health now builds health for the future, which is an excellent reason to ensure your children get plenty of physical activity and eat correctly.
So why are physical developments and the concern for inflammation so necessary to address? Inflammation is an immune and healing response. Our bodies have built-in systems to help treat inflammation as it occurs and physical activity is one of the mechanisms our body uses to flush out inflammatory problems. When inflammation occurs, it is usually the body’s first response that there is some sort of health problem. If inflammation persists over an extended period of time, it amplifies, affecting your child’s proper development and increases the chances of chronic health concerns that may not show up for years.
Keeping your kids physically active starting from the age of 5 and up is far more critical than most parents realize. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and here are their fitness recommendations for children and adolescents from ages 6 to 17: A total of 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity was recommended. The guidelines state the action should either consist of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical or strength building activity at least three days per week.
For younger children, the strength-building activity may include using playground equipment, climbing, or playing jump rope. For tweens, there are some great types of exercise including lifting relatively heavy objects or using body weight for resistance such as push-ups or gymnastics. For older teens, weight training, interval training and other more aggressive types of workout regimens are recommended.
Also, keep in mind the importance of resistance and strength training in children. Parents have long been told that younger kids should not strength train. I am often asked, “Can a child damage growth plates by performing resistance or strength training?” The simple answer is no. Many studies have been done and concluded no defining data nor scientific evidence is explicitly supporting that children who strength train in moderation damage growth plates. Common sense is resistance and strength training should be at a level that matches their ability.
What should be expected is to keep your children physically active from 5 years old up until they graduate from high school. Also, remember school programs are less focused on physical education, so stay involved with your children’s fitness. When it comes to our children, always remember that with any sport or exercise activity, moderation and common sense is the key to excellent results.
Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.