Monday, September 30, 2013

Physical Fitness is Good for Kids’ Bodies and Brains

In case you haven’t heard, exercise is really good for you. Study after study has associated physical fitness with a multitude of health benefits like improved ventilation in asthma patients, lower risk of cancer for both men and women, lowered rates of coronary heart disease, and reduced risk of dementia in senior citizens. Kids who build healthy habits at a young age tend to maintain them, so many health experts recommend that children engage in physical activity while they’re young so that they’ll grow into fit adults.

But a recent study suggests that active kids aren't just physically healthier; they learn better, too. It’s been established that exercise before a test leads to better test scores, and researchers have also uncovered a link between overall fitness and higher achievement scores. Most recently, a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fit kids outperformed their less healthy peers on a difficult memorization task.

Although the benefits of exercise may be obvious to parents, persuading kids to set down the iPad and get their pulses racing can be tricky. Participation in sports, martial arts and dance classes, and horseback riding lessons can be fun ways to get kids moving. But for some over-scheduled families, adding extra commitments isn't an option. Here, then, are a few ideas to get kids moving that can be integrated into day-to-day family life:

Make Screen Time Active

We advocate limiting screen time, but some small changes can make the time your child does spend in front of the tube or the computer a little more healthful. Ask your child to stand while working with a laptop or tablet (place the device on the kitchen counter if a tabletop is too short). Even better, dare them to stand on one foot! While watching TV, designate commercial breaks as movement periods and challenge kids to do crunches, leg lifts, push-ups, sit-ups, or wall sits until the program starts again. A little friendly competition between siblings or buddies will add an extra element of fun. During programs, encourage kids to sit on stability balls that will engage their core muscles as they balance and work their leg muscles when they bounce.

A Furry Friend in Need

Express your concern that the family dog isn't getting enough exercise and task your child with taking it for frequent walks or starting games of fetch or keep-away.

Get Out Together

Take a walk after dinner whenever possible. Use weekends to do something outdoors together; it’s a great way to combine family time and fitness time. Go for a hike, take a walk in the park, or strap on helmets for a bike ride. Parents who like the idea of longer bike rides don’t need to leave their little ones behind; look into a trail-a-bike, a device that uses a child-sized seat and wheel that turns any adult bike into a tandem.


Only going up a flight or two? Skip the elevator and lead your kids up the stairs.

Take Measure

Really committed to getting your kids to move? Hand out small, inexpensive pedometers and compare everyone’s steps at the end of the day. The desire to beat his older brother’s total may just get your child to go the extra mile.

Play Time

Kids love interactive games like Simon Says, Mother May I, Follow the Leader, or the Mirror Game*. When you play, throw in physical challenges like crab walks, jumping jacks, frog hops, etc.

Clean Living

Assign kids chores like washing windows, sweeping, washing the car, raking leaves, gardening, or anything else you can think of that will get them moving.

Golden Oldies

Introduce your kids to old, favorite schoolyard games like jump rope and hopscotch. Brownie points for successfully navigating a game of double-dutch!

Three Words

Impromptu Dance Party!

*To play the Mirror Game, partners face each other. One is the actor and one is the mirror, and when the actor moves the mirror must copy the movements exactly. Partners should switch roles at some point so that each one has a chance to be both the mirror and the actor.

Photo credits:U.S. Dept. of AgricultureespensorvikvastateparksstaffglutnixPink Sherbert Photographymastermaq.

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