It’s no secret that physical activity offers countless health benefits, no matter our age. Besides strengthening muscles and bones it decreases the risk of becoming overweight and can also reduce anxiety. In this day and age as technology provides children with effortless entertainment, as parents get busier and driving to the gym becomes a chore, as full-time schooling approaches and cognitive development replaces physical progress, extra-curricular sports and activities become unimportant and are wrongly eliminated from a child’s daily schedule. But is stopping your child from being physically active really helping them do better in school?
Our bodies are designed to be active and studies have shown that our brains work much better when a physically active life is maintained. According to Rebecca Duncombe, Sport Pedagogy teacher at Loughborough University, many of the children who are sent to school nowadays are not physically ready. She argues that “…an inactive lifestyle early in life may be contributing to a lack of “school readiness” in young children.” Over the academic year of 2015-2016 Duncombe interviewed numerous teachers who strongly support complementary physical activities as having “a positive effect on children’s handwriting as well as their ability to follow instructions and their general readiness for learning.”
Regular aerobic exercise enhances cognitive functions particularly executive functions, it also improves behaviour and the ability to concentrate. According to Dr Charles Hillman (University of Illinois, Chicago, USA) exercise is “good for how fast individuals process information and how they perform on cognitive task.”
On the other hand, prolonged inactivity in childhood can lead to negative cognitive consequences such as reduced working memory, attention and learning. Brendon Hyndman, (Course Director of Postgraduate Studies in Education, Charles Sturt University) says that physical activity is important in developing students’ brain structures (cells/neurons) and functioning at an early age. “The human brain is not fully developed until the third decade of life, so getting kids moving can be a powerful academic strategy.”
The World Health Organisation recommends at least 60 minutes of daily moderate to intense physical activities for children between five and 17 years old. Our own National Health System (NHS) also provides strong guidelines: In fact, the NHS’ guidelines for five to 18-year-olds is pretty clear:
“To maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do: at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis. 3 days a week, these activities should involve exercises for strong muscles and bones, such as swinging on playground equipment, hopping and skipping, and sports such as gymnastics or tennis.
Children and young people should also reduce the time they spend sitting for extended periods of time, including watching TV, playing computer games and travelling by car when they could walk or cycle.
Being active for at least 60 minutes a day is linked to better general health, stronger bones and muscles, and higher levels of self-esteem.” Whilst some schools offer great sporting facilities, children still do not exercise to the daily recommended levels and hence after school activities are essential.
Besides, exercise is fun! Sport challenges and encourages children to overcome these challenges by themselves, setting them up to be independent. Exercising in a safe environment gives them confidence as they are encouraged to overcome challenges; if they are confident they take risks, if they take risks, they grow.
Sport also encourages discipline. It teaches children to be persistent and from an early age it inspires them to pursue goals. Discipline itself is a muscle that requires regular exercise. In his book “The Power of Habit” Charles Duhigg calls exercise a “keystone habit”. Setting up healthy habits in your child’s life contributes greatly to their development, both physically and intellectually.
So even as school starts, even as life gets busier, even if at times you would rather not to make that drive to the gym, remember that by doing so you are offering your child numerous benefits that will be noticeable throughout their life in any area that they choose to pursue.
So get them ready for a brilliant future, keep them active!
References and further reading:
Rebecca Duncombe, “Many children aren’t physically ready to start school”. Click Here
Brendon Hyndman, “Move it, move it: How physical activity in school helps the mind and the body”. Click Here
More information about Dr Charles Hillman’s research can be found here: Physical exercise benefits for children
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg