Exercise is not always easy. It takes time, effort, and sometimes sitting on the couch and binge watching Netflix sounds a lot more life giving than going on a run. However, studies show us time and time again that the benefits of exercising far outweigh the costs.
For adults and children alike, physical activity strengthens muscles and bones, prevents excess weight gain, and reduces the risk of diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. Perhaps even more importantly, physical activity is also directly correlated to a positive mental state. Physical activity can drastically improve one’s ability to manage anxiety and depression, boost self-esteem, and sharpen cognitive skills. We also know that exercise increases endorphins which is fundamental in building good mental health for anyone, at any age.
If you are able, it is important to model a pattern of consistent physical activity in your own life so that your child can see what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Many children emulate their care taker’s behaviors and teaching a child a healthy habit such as exercise is truly a gift that will keep on giving.
But where is a good place to even begin your child’s fitness journey? Here are some helpful guidelines that will point you and your family in the right direction…
Best practices for engaging in exercise with your children:
- Children should be active for 60 minutes on most days of the week (broken into shorter sessions if needed).
- Make it fun and enjoyable! It is important to create a positive environment around physical activity. Children should never be forced into playing a sport or engaging in an exercise as it may create a negative connotation surrounding physical activity.
- Be adaptable. Every child is different and will bring their own set of strengths and weaknesses to the table. Most children, if given the ability to explore various activities and methods, will find some form of physical activity that they find enjoyable.
- Don’t overthink it. Your child’s exercise for the day could include playing hop scotch outside with chalk, running laps around your home, and/or swinging on a swing. You do not have to have the world’s best equipment (or curriculum) to engage in productive physical activity with your children.
- As always, be safe. Supervision is vital for safety while children are participating in physical activity. While accidents can always happen, setting up boundaries and rules for your family can help to eliminate various hazards.
Exercise at any age:
- Preschool: Focus on activities that help them continue to develop motor skills. Kicking or throwing a ball, playing tag, or even just hopping on one foot are great forms of physical exercise for this young age. As they approach years four, five, and six, riding a trike or bike with training wheels (and a helmet of course) can be a great activity as well. Organized sports are not recommended at this age.
- School age: Think about engaging in activities that make them feel successful. Also try to keep their attention away from sedentary activities like TV/computer/iPad. Traditional sports (baseball, basketball, soccer), martial arts, walking, hiking, biking, and playing outside are all encouraged at this age as well.
No matter your child’s fitness personality, all kids have the ability to be physically active. With a parent’s example, encouragement, and assistance in making physical activity a priority, children can develop a lifelong love of exercise!
Until next time,
Parkside Provider, former competitive cheerleader, current wanna be Clemson cheerleader