Playing For Health: Why Exercise Is Good For Children

Physical activity is an essential factor that keeps a child healthy and allows for balanced growth and development. Unfortunately, many children have become less likely to engage in physical activities due to the increase in digital technology use, the urban living environment and working parents with little time to spare.

Simply put, a lot of homes no longer have a big backyard where the kids can play to their heart’s content and parents, understandably, don’t want their children wandering the streets or parks alone, so some families have become more reliant on sedentary entertainment, which can result in an inactive child.

The Health Sciences Research Council recently undertook a National Health Nutrition Survey, which found that a shocking number of South African children between the ages of 2 to 14 years were either overweight or obese.

Whether there’s a big screen TV or Wi-Fi at home or if you’re a hard-working, time-challenged parent who lives in a small flat, it doesn’t mean that your child should compromise on their physical activity. You may want to consider that, if your child is behaving badly while you’re shopping and can’t seem to sit still for a moment, it could mean that they’re frustrated and need to ‘burn off some steam.’

Take a look at why it’s so important for children to engage in play-based exercise activitiess and how you can help make this happen.

Why is exercise so important for children?

Experts agree that children require of minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day. For adults, exercise is often likened to going to the gym or dedicating some time to a structured task like a yoga class, but for children physical activity is enjoyed, more often than not, through simple play-based activities that don’t have to be strictly structured or undertaken in a single session.

There are three main types of exercises that are ideal for a child’s physical and mental development, these include:

• Endurance

This involves aerobic activities like running, skateboarding, rollerblading, tennis, hockey, netball or swimming. Endurance activities can also include simple games like playing tag or running wild on the playground. It’s essential for building cardiovascular fitness.

• Strength

These exercises are muscle or bone strengthening activities that promote toning and include climbing and jumping like playing on the jungle gym or in a tree house, hanging onto monkey-bars, engaging in a team tug-o-war or wrestling.

• Flexibility

Flexibility exercises include any stretching activities that can help improve coordination such as dance classes like ballet or martial arts like judo. Otherwise, children can improve their flexibility and coordination by doing simpler, at-home activities, like playing hopscotch or practising with their bat and ball-set.

Exercise for children is so much more than weight maintenance. While physical fitness is essential for their health and has the advantage of decreasing the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes or poor bone health, exercise also has other benefits in that it helps children develop a broad range of vital cognitive, developmental and social skills like discipline, motivation and compromise.

Fine motor skills are developed and a child’s mindset matures by being exposed to the concept of winning and losing (with dignity) as well as commitment to long-term goals.

They can interact, improve their talents and develop relationships with their peers, which is a great boost for personal confidence and self-esteem.

Helping your child stay active – how to do it?

• Lead by example and foster a healthy mindset

There is no better role-model than a parent, so make keeping fit and active a daily family lifestyle habit. If you’re a couch potato then the chances are high that your child will simply emulate your behaviour. Address physical activity with positivity: take the stairs instead of the elevator and don’t groan about carrying the groceries. Likewise, instil a good attitude towards exercise by explaining that the emphasis is on having fun and improving their skill-set, and not only about winning and that they shouldn’t compare themselves to their more accomplished teammates or older siblings.

• Make the right choices for their age

Try not to have unrealistic expectations of your child’s physical capabilities. Choose appropriate exercise activities. Pre-schoolers battle with organised team sports because they’re still learning fundamental motor skills. Children under the age of five can benefit from swimming lessons, while those in the six to eight age bracket can develop basic coordination skills from bike riding or gymnastics. Ages nine to eleven are refining their hand-eye coordination so can graduate to team or solo sports like soccer or tennis.

Of course every child is different, so you need to exercise logical reasoning. Speak with their teachers or get a sports’ coach to advise you of your child’s developmental abilities.

• Give them a say and make it fun

It’s important that children’s exercise activities are perceived as fun games and that they enjoy what they’re doing. Don’t be the pushy parent who overshadows their child’s interests with their own aspirations of producing a soccer star or tennis prodigy. It’s a good idea to expose them to an array of different activities so that they can decide what they like and wish to pursue. Just be careful not to overdo the sports’ groups as this may cause burnout.

• Use available resources

If you’re a very busy parent then it’s an excellent idea to research your options and make use of the resources available within your community. Support your school’s physical education programme and, if it’s lacking, then try to enrol your child at a local sports’ club so that they can participate on a team like rugby or netball.

Consider joining a studio that offers classes like dancing or gymnastics. Many local boroughs now have specialised facilities at parks or community centres that will allow your child to skateboard or cycle with their like-minded friends. It just takes a bit of effort to find out what is available in your area.

• Making family exercise time a priority

Instead of kicking back and watching too much TV over the weekend, make time to enjoy some active family time together. Plan a hike together or take a family bike ride in the country. Otherwise, if you can’t afford to stray too far from home, devote some time to gardening or tidying up the house with the children.

If space and time (or the weather) are a concern then you can always encourage some creative indoor activities like a dance party, indoor gymnastics, hide and seek or fun workout routines. Not only will this help keep your children active but it’s also a great way to ensure that you get some valuable quality family time.

Topmed is committed to family health and wellbeing. Make sure that your children are engaging in adequate physical activity by following our advice on exercises for children. Be sure to get cover for yourself and your family with Topmed. Contact us today for any questions you may have about your health.


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Playing For Health: Why Exercise Is Good For Children