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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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Overscheduled? Too busy to play? Six ways to push back and create a healthy balance for your kids

child and dandelion crpdBalance is one of the most important secrets for raising happily productive kids. It’s important to provide lots of stimulation, challenge, and learning for your kids, but it’s just as important to ensure ample time for free play, nature, reflection, imagination, and even boredom. Here are six ideas you can implement starting today that will help you push back against overscheduling, and create a healthy balance.

  1. Make time for play. It’s through playing with other children in games of their own devising that kids learn to make decisions wisely, manage their emotions, see things from others’ perspectives, sort out conflicts, and make friends. Other benefits of unstructured playful exploration include better self-regulation, self-awareness, and collaboration skills; greater ownership of one’s own learning; and a freer imagination.

Free up your kids’ time in whatever ways you can. Reduce the emphasis on organized sports, homework, lessons, and practice. Encourage their curiosity, playfulness, sociability and deep desire to learn by assigning a top priority to playtime.

  1. Go outside! Time spent outdoors increases well-being in every area: psychological, physical, cognitive, and creative. Time in nature expands the imagination; stimulates all the senses; frees the spirit; and makes a person calmer, more optimistic, healthier, and more creative. It enhances academic success by improving attention and focus. Kids are calmer, more optimistic, healthier, more creative, and more successful at school when they spend time outdoors.

From the time he’s born, make sure your child gets some outdoor time every day, no matter the weather or your schedule. An hour outside every day is great, but even if it’s only twenty minutes, he’ll experience many benefits, including stress reduction and increased sense of well-being.

  1. Turn it off! For too many kids, too much of the time in their lives that could otherwise be spent playing, thinking, or being creative, is being gobbled up by electronic gadgets and screens. Although there’s a place for technology in children’s lives, too much time on computer games, television, smart phones, and the rest can encourage lazy habits of mind, where a child comes to rely on entertainment and activities created by others instead of creating his own fun and discovering his own interests.

Wise parents turn off their screens, too. As cognitive psychologist Tracy Dennis has written, ‘Multi-tasking on our devices all the time is a sure-fire way to interfere with our ability to look our children in the eye, hear what they have to say, sensitively pick up on their feelings, and transmit that sparkle in the eye. The multitasking mode is the opposite of mirroring and of being present.’

  1. Let there be downtime.Ample time for doing nothing—the ‘restful neural processing’ that occurs when we’re daydreaming and dawdling—is essential to self-discovery, and to optimal learning and happiness over the long run.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”  

Parents can support their kids in acquiring the important habit of reflection by allowing themselves to slow down and think. Through modeling and active encouragement, help your children welcome downtime as an opportunity for self-discovery, consolidation of learning, creativity, and regeneration.

  1. Breathe and be mindful. Kids who learn about breathing and other mindfulness techniques can do a better job of balancing their inner and outer experiences, and feel more solidly in control of their responses to the environment. Mindfulness reduces stress, improves sleep quality, and heightens the ability to focus. It helps kids concentrate on tests and exams, soothes their anxieties, and helps them cope better with challenging situations. This is particularly important for those with attentional and anxiety issues, and it’s also been proven effective with kids with autism.

‘Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.’ That was written by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, but these practices are also being supported by scientists like Jim Swanson, an expert in ADHD at U of California, Irvine, who said, ‘Mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in ADHD… That’s why mindfulness might be so important. It seems to get at the causes.”

One of the best ways to help your kids slow down is to practice mindfulness techniques yourself. Breathe deeply when you notice yourself stressed, or see signs of stress in the people around you. Practice yoga. Meditate. Listen to your children, your environment, and yourself. Think—and take at least one good thoughtful breath—before you speak.

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Children who feel grateful for the people, activities, and opportunities in their lives are happier than others. They score higher on measures of well-being, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

When parents model appreciation for the small gifts of everyday life—sunshine, food, time together with loved ones—they help their children achieve an attitude of gratitude. Kids (and adults) don’t need to fill their time with busy activities when they take time to feel happy with what they have.

 

In a culture that prizes overscheduling, pushing back against being ‘crazy busy’ takes courage, but it is very much worth doing. By thoughtfully slowing down the pace of your children’s lives so they have time to play, go outside, decompress, and breathe deeply, you enhance their chances of creating happily productive lives for themselves.

To read more about these ideas:

‘Protect Your Child’s Playtime: It’s More Important than Homework, Lessons, and Organized Sports,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Free Play Vital to Children’s Healthy Development,’ by Peter Gray

‘How Nature Makes Kids Calmer, Healthier, Smarter,’ by Laura Markham

‘Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Overwhelmed Moms Choose NOT to Be Busy,’ by Jacoba Urist 

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Jerome Singer, Rebecca McMillan, and Scott Barry Kaufman

‘The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits,’  by Daniel Goleman

and for more resources on supporting children’s optimal development:

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

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Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Intelligence, and Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability

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Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, may be the simplest, healthiest, and most economical remedy for the terrible increase in numbers of children diagnosed with social, emotional, and learning problems over the past two decades. It may also be the answer to many problems suffered by adults in our increasingly rushed, technology-focused lives. And on a global scale, there’s evidence that more people spending more time in natural spaces would contribute to solving the environmental challenges that are increasingly disrupting our lives.  Read more

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Parenting and Multi-Tasking in the Digital Age

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Tracy Dennis is both a mother and an eminent developmental psychologist who is interested in the impact of digital media on human development across the life span. She’s written several posts on this topic on her Psyche’s Circuitry blog. One of my personal favourites is the one where she writes about two ideas for parents to keep in mind when they are using digital media to multi-task while taking care of their kids.

Dr Dennis does not think that digital multi-tasking around children damages them, but does think it’s important to keep it in perspective, and keep it to a minimum.  Read more

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Let’s Play Outside! Kids Who Play Outside Are Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

summertime_babyHere’s another article on the importance of outdoor play, this one by Laura Markham. She starts off by outlining the benefits to kids’ health, intelligence, and happiness: kids are calmer, more optimistic, healthier, more creative, and more successful at school when they spend lots of time outdoors. Read more

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Outdoor Play: 20 Ways it Contributes to Raising Smarter Kids

rsz_1rsz_kids_outside_runningUnstructured playtime is an essential part of developing many dimensions of intelligence and creativity. And if that playtime happens outdoors—preferably in a natural setting, even if it’s a small urban park—that’s even better. Outdoor playtime opens up a world of possibilities for kids that can expand their imagination, stimulate all their senses, and free their spirits in ways that structured indoor activities and screentime can never do. Read more