There are many factors that play a part in building a healthy lifestyle for a child. Most parents try to instill routines such as eating healthy meals, getting a good night’s sleep, and waking up at a decent hour to help their child feel their best throughout the day. These are all wonderful ways to help your child attain the focus and attention needed to be productive, but there is an added factor that can help your child feel their best and remain focused…exercise!
According to the American Heart Association, a child should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, every day.
Activity throughout the day helps us remain healthy (physically and mentally) from childhood into adulthood. The physical benefits of exercise, such as the development of movement skills, strengthening of bones and muscles, and maintenance of a healthy body weight are more obvious; however, the benefits of physical activity for brain function are not as visible.
Here are 4 areas in which exercise can give your child the brain power they need to feel great about themselves and focus on their next adventure:
Anxiety and Depression
Moderate exercise helps the body produce mood-boosting hormones called endorphins. These “natural painkillers” can help a child (or adult) struggling with anxiety and/or depression. In fact, studies have shown that youth who are active for at least 60 minutes per day are less likely to have depressive symptoms. So, as easy as it may be to increase screen time for your child on a stressful day, a better option may be to increase their physical activity. Encourage your child to ride their bike or adventure outside with a friend. This practice will allow your child to focus on the activity at hand, pump up their endorphins, and put any stress from the day behind them.
Exercise can teach individuals about goal setting and perseverance. And if your child is on a sports team, they have the chance to build social skills through meeting and interacting with teammates, and the opportunity to improve teamwork skills while working with others towards a common goal. Many long-lasting relationships are formed on sports teams, and many new goals are met with encouragement and healthy competition between teammates. These instances and interactions can help to lift your child’s self-esteem. So, whether your child dedicates extra time to practice drills with a teammate, sets a personal goal to walk for 15 minutes per day, or just participates in friendly playground interactions on the jungle gym, the confidence they build from participating in exercise can lead to a better sense of self longterm. Confidence is even linked to better grades. After increasing self-esteem through exercise, your child can feel more focused and ready to tackle their next goal!
According to Charlene Gamaldo, M.D. from the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep, there is solid evidence that exercise helps you fall asleep faster, and improves sleep quality. Sleep, in turn, allows you to be well-rested and focused for the next day. There’s a myth circulating around that exercising too close to bedtime will do your child a disservice because it over-simulates the body, but this is not true for everyone! Many families make a habit out of after-dinner walks as a simple way to squeeze in some exercise before it’s time to wind down for the night.
Overall Brain Boost
Exercise can actually improve memory! The hippocampus, which is located at the core of the brain’s learning and memory systems, responds strongly to exercise, inducing a memory boost for those who exercise regularly. In addition, the endorphins produced by the body during exercise can help with concentration. Endorphins help to prioritize the functions of the brain, allowing your child to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. Many studies have shown exercise as a key to success in concentration for children, teens, and adults. So, before you break out those flashcards, it may help your child to go for a walk, ride their bike, or play an outdoor game first.
What Can You Do?
As adults, we sometimes moan and groan at the mention of physical activity because of the time and energy it steals from us. We forget about the lasting health benefits that exercise can bring us, and the opportunity we have to set an example for the next generation. Let’s be positive role models for our children and show them that exercise can be fun, and most importantly good for our overall well being!
Here are some ways that you can encourage your child to exercise throughout the week:
Suggest a family walk after dinner
Less screen time, more outdoors time
Experiment with team and individual sports (different kids enjoy different activities!)
Invest in a Bouncy Band for their desk
Be an active role model and join them in their activities!