It used to be the case that exercise was just a natural part of everyday life for young people. They could spend hours running around parks, playing skipping games, kicking a football around or bouncing on a trampoline. Staying healthy was just a positive side effect of playing and having fun.
But with the growth of digital media, TV and gaming, this is no longer always the case, and many children might now choose to sit at home in front of the TV rather than going out and getting some fresh air with their friends. Indeed, a study by The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the age at which children begin to ‘go off’ sport is now around seven, which is much younger than it used to be (previously, this behaviour was typically associated with the adolescent years).
Getting kids to do regular exercise has many benefits, though, and it is hugely important to try and make this a part of everyday life. So, with this in mind, here are just some of the benefits of regular exercise for children.
Boost academic performance
Being physically active is good for the brain. It can improve a child’s concentration and learning capabilities, which could boost their academic performance. Studies have shown that regular exercise stimulates the brain to release chemicals that maintain the health of brain cells and prompt the growth of new blood vessels, which improves memory, thinking and focus. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins that enhance the brain’s ability to prioritise effectively, which helps children concentrate more clearly on individual tasks and projects (something that is highly beneficial both within the school environment and outside of it).
The releasing of endorphins (also known as ‘happy chemicals’) into the body during exercise is known to have a positive, calming effect on the body and mind – boosting a person’s mood and making them feel less stressed. Doing regular exercise can see a boost in self-esteem for children, young adults and grown-ups alike. This positivity will also come from the natural enhancement of their body, which can improve self-image and make children more comfortable in their own skin.
Encourage kids to socialise
For a lot of children, doing exercise will involve going to after-school or weekend clubs and classes. This provides a great opportunity to socialise with schoolmates and meet new people – improving leadership, teamwork and people skills, as well as boosting qualities like confidence and empathy. Even those simply playing in the park with friends gain valuable social skills and bond with peers in a positive, productive way.
Help children sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential to a child’s mood and ability to perform properly in school. If a child is stressed, anxious or ‘wired’ (perhaps from too much exposure to digital screens) they may not be able to sleep properly. Exercise can help with this by tiring them out physically and enabling the brain to be clear and relaxed come bedtime.
Increase cardiovascular and bone health
According to the NHS, regular exercise can promote cardiovascular fitness and bone growth in children and young people. A simple game of ‘catch’ every day can help children boost their cardiovascular fitness, while playground activities like hopscotch and skipping with a rope are excellent for bone health. Sports like gymnastics, martial arts, dance and football are all ideal in this regard.
Ensure a healthy weight
Childhood obesity is a huge issue in the UK. It affects one-quarter of children aged between 2 and 10, and one-third of young people aged 11 to 15. Regular exercise and a healthy diet are essential for helping children to maintain a healthy weight and avoid weight-related issues like diabetes (type 2), asthma, hypertension and heart problems. As well as ensuring a child’s physical health, keeping a healthy weight is important for mental well being.
How much exercise do children need?
It is generally accepted that children and young people (between the ages of 5 and 18) should do at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, at a moderate to vigorous level. The NHS suggests that this should include three types of activities: aerobic, muscle-building and bone-strengthening. The latest guidelines suggest that exercise should be spread throughout the day and that it should be vigorous enough to result in faster breathing and a warmer body. Doing more exercise should also help to minimise the amount of time children spend sitting down or engaging in other ‘sedentary behaviours’ that can result in health issues.
One easy way to ensure that children are getting enough exercise is to encourage them to get involved with team sports at school. If you are planning an active school trip for your students or need help organising a team event, contact us at Sport Experiences for more information.