These days, it is rare to see a child without the glare of some kind of screen illuminating their faces. They watch TV while they eat breakfast, use their phones in the car, and type on computers in class and on their laptops at home. When they finally have free time, they peruse their phones again, watch even more television or play the latest video games. All of this time in front of an electronic screen totals to 6.5 hours a day on average, according to an article on BBC.com. But with all that time spent on electronic use, very little can be devoted to exercise, sports and outdoor activities. This lack of activity is one of the leading factors attributed to the rise in childhood obesity.
According to an article on the CDC’s website, childhood obesity (6-11 years old) has increased from 7% to 18% of children between 1980 and 2012 and it is still growing. It has even quadrupled in adolescent age group. Exercise is one of the key ways to prevent and minimize childhood obesity but it also has other benefits. As a personal trainer that hosted youth exercise classes, I have personally witnessed the benefits of children exercising. Here are the top three benefits to child exercise:
Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight
Exercise along with a healthy diet, is a great way to manage and maintain weight in children and adolescents. While it is important for children to be confident no matter what size they are, it is just as important that they are healthy. Child obesity can lead to an early onset of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and more. Exercising even as little as 30 min a day can help to burn off the extra calories and to prevent diseases.
Maintaining a healthy body weight can also increase a child’s self esteem, keep their bones and muscles strong and less prone to injuries, and encourage better sleep patterns.
When I first started teaching my youth exercise class, I had a timid 11-year-old boy as one of my first pupils. He was nervous about going to middle school the following fall, because he was afraid his schoolmates would tease him about his weight and his asthma while in gym class. I worked with him 3 days out of the week throughout the summer and continued to see his self-esteem go up as his weight went down. He slowly came out of his shell and become our exercise class clown. When his first day of middle school came around, he said that he was able to keep up in gym class and made new friends that thought he was funny.
Motor Skills Improvement
Exercise can also help to improve motor skills. As children are growing, they are constantly learning how to coordinate their body movements as their body is continuing to grow. Think of how hard it was to catch a ball when it was first hurled in your direction. By exercising, they will be able to learn how each part of their body functions, strengthen the muscles involved and coordinate each movement. This will help them during that game of catch, picking up larger objects, and during arts and crafts time when fine motor skills are needed.
One of my youngest pupils in my youth exercise class was an 8-year-old girl. She was excited to exercise and to be just like her mother and father who were both bodybuilding competitors. I decided to see how good her motor skills were since she was coming to me at such a young age and had very little experience using weights of any kind. I had her throw a medicine ball in my direction and it just fell to the floor because she didn’t know how to coordinate her movements to propel the ball through the air. I worked with her for a couple of weeks and by our next check-in, she threw the ball so hard that my face was almost the target. Needless to say, I was impressed and was fully confident that one day she would be alongside her parents in a bodybuilding competition.
Exercise is an excellent way to increase the interpersonal communication skills of your child. This is especially true when it comes to team sports. When your child plays on a team, they learn how to communicate with their fellow team members, work out disputes, work together to score a point or a goal and how to use helpful critiques to their advantage. These interpersonal skills can be used on or off the field/court and will make them better communicators in school, at home and for the future.
While teaching my youth exercise classes, I wanted to encourage teamwork in the group. So one half of our hour-long sessions were spent lifting light free weights and performing other circuit workouts, and the other half was devoted to playing some kind of sport. My class loved practicing volleyball. We did not have a net at the gym, but we would go to a grassy area behind the gym, stand in a circle and see how many times we could keep the ball in the air. In order for the ball to stay in the air, and for my students not to run into each other, they had to communicate with each other as to where to stand, who should get the ball and who would receive the next pass. At first, it was chaos, but as they learned to work together, the ball spent most of its time in the air. The children eventually came together and became friends outside of the class.
Now that you know the benefits of exercising, there is still the hurdle of getting your child to actually exercise. This can sometimes be a challenge because, let’s face it, phones, television, video games and computers are fun. So here are some ways to encourage your child to exercise:
Ways to Encourage Exercise
- Sign them up for a school sport that will get them moving and that they will enjoy
- Join the local pool club for fun and swimming in the sun
- Go on family hikes around your local and national parks
- Sign them up for the kid exercise program at your local gym. Trainers who teach these classes combine games with exercises to ensure that your children are having fun.
- Have them help out with yard work
- Get them involved in karate or tae kwon do classes. They will get a real kick out of them.
- Go on a bike ride around the neighborhood
- Invite the neighborhood kids over for a game of capture the flag or the classic game of Tag
The most important thing to remember is that EXERCISE CAN BE FUN. Encouraging your children to stay healthy and active through exercise and sports will set them up for a great future.