For Smarter, Happier, Healthier Kids, Keep Moving! Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Participate in Regular Frequent Activity

Child_swingingChildren who are physically active do better than others on virtually all developmental measures. They’re not only healthier, stronger, and more resilient to illness, but they’re also happier, more confident, more academically successful, and more creative than others. They sleep better, feel better about themselves, and become healthier adults.

Kids of all ages need frequent daily opportunities for physical exercise. Too many kids are spending too much of their time on screens or sitting at their desks, and not participating in the activity their growing minds and bodies need.

In a review of the research on young children and exercise, Brian Timmons at McMaster University and his colleagues concluded that frequent regular exercise is associated not only with better physical outcomes—motor skills, cardiometabolic health, body fat, bone health, etc.—but also higher scores on measures of psychological, social, and cognitive development.

In international comparisons of educational outcomes, Finnish students do exceptionally well compared to others in spite of the fact that they don’t start their academic education until the age of seven, and their school days are less than six hours long. One of the most potent success factors appears to be that they allocate fifteen minutes out of every hour to unstructured outdoor play, or recess.

Why is that? Here are eighteen evidence-based reasons that kids who are physically active do better than other kids on pretty much every measure of development—social, emotional, cognitive, academic, and physical. 

Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Keep Moving

  1. Concentration, focus, attention. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain, delivering the oxygen and glucose required for keen concentration and focus.
  2. Memory, accuracy, and reaction time. When kids are active, their short-term memory and reaction time improve. Those with higher aerobic fitness are able to complete challenging cognitive tasks faster and more accurately.
  3. Academic achievement. Exercise stimulates brain cells to grow, branch out, and connect with each other, resulting in a greater openness to learning and capacity for knowledge.
  4. Creativity. Kids who exercise frequently have greater cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift thinking and produce creative, original thoughts.
  5. Strength, flexibility, and endurance. Kids need to exercise regularly in order to become strong, flexible, and resilient.
  6. Sleep. Children sleep better if they get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day.
  7. Weight. Kids who are sedentary tend to consume more caloriesthan they burn, resulting in extra weight. Active kids are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
  8. Bone health. Just like muscles, bones grow stronger when physically stressed.
  9. Motor skill development. It’s only by moving that kids’ muscles and gross motor skills can develop.
  10. Heart health. Like all muscles, the heart is strengthened and its functioning improves through exercise. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart problems later.
  11. Stress. Exercise increases norepinephrine and endorphins, reducing stress and enhancing mood.
  12. Energy. Regular exercise makes people feel more energetic.
  13. Diabetes. Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy.
  14. Immune system. Frequent regular exercise improves the body’s ability to get rid of toxins and fight disease. Fit kids are less prone to colds, allergies, and many kinds of disease, including cancer.
  15. Confidence and self-esteem. Exercise improves children’s sense of well-being and their appearance, both of which contribute to confidence and self-esteem.
  16. Social skills. Kids who get frequent daily breaks learn how to cooperate, communicate, and compromise.
  17. Emotional well-being. Children feel calmer and happier when they’re getting frequent regular exercise. There are many reasons for this, including the first 16 reasons on this list. Additionally, though, exercise stimulates beta-endorphins and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of well-being.
  18. Health and happiness across the life span. Kids who get into the exercise habit early are a lot more likely to stay fit across their lifetimes.

It’s never too late to get moving. Studies of previously sedentary children who participated in increased levels of physical activity showed improved functioning in all these ways. Fifteen minutes of playtime every hour gives kids’ brains a chance to reboot, so they come back to their studies fresh and ready to focus.

For the research behind the reasons:

Systematic Review of Physical Activity and Health in the Early Years, by Brian W. Timmons and colleagues

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused through Free Play, by Tim Walker 

Kids and Exercise, by Kids Health 

The American Heart Association’s Recommendations for Physical Activity in Children, by the AHA

The Benefit of Exercise on Your Kid’s Brain, by Raise Smart Kid

Exercise for Children: The Cognitive Benefits, by Gwen Dewar 

Ten Benefits of Physical Activity, by Jane Forester

How Exercise Benefits Your Whole Body, by WebMD 

Five Ways Exercise Affects Sleep, by Cleveland Clinic’s Brain and Spine Team

For more ideas like this, see Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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