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The benefits of getting children moving

File photo: Physical activity positively impacts brain function, reflexes and reaction times as well as creative skills. Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

File photo: Physical activity positively impacts brain function, reflexes and reaction times as well as creative skills. Photographer - Tracey Adams/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 3, 2022

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After lockdown, parents became more aware of the immense cognitive, social, behavioural/emotional, physical, and psychological benefits of movement and physical activity for their children.

According to Dr Eileen Africa from Stellenbosch Kinderkinetics and Catherine Coupar, National Junior Member Manager at Virgin Active South, active children are not only healthier and happier but also smarter, more creative, and more confident.

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Kidz Gym in Sable Square, Milnerton, which aims to encourage children, regardless of their ability, to be active and enjoy the benefits of exercising. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ANA Pics

Children spend the majority of their time at school, which makes it an ideal and safe environment for them to get active either before, during, or after the school day. This includes participating in team sports, extracurricular activities, physical education classes, or active playtime at home.

The pandemic brought with it online classes and home-schooling, which caused a drastic decline in physical activity and an increase in sedentary behaviours. Children were no longer being active for at least 60 minutes throughout the day as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

While the relationship between physical inactivity and obesity is fairly evident these days, the hugely beneficial aspects of regular movement, exercise and active play were largely underestimated until parents started spending more time with their children and saw the results for themselves.

Physical activity positively impacts brain function, reflexes and reaction times as well as creative skills. In fact, an increase in physical activity and longer weekly exercise routines are associated with higher intelligence and emotional development during childhood.

Recent research has shown that active children also perform better at school. An improvement in academic results can be seen after engaging in physical activity. Children show improved brain functions, find it easier to concentrate on school-related tasks, and show improved mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling skills. The best academic results were recorded when physical education classes were scheduled before lunchtime rather than later in the day.

Pupils perform a science experiment. Research has shown that learning in groups teaches social skills, so pupils are encouraged to do experiments, discuss and debate topics, and learn in groups.

Asha Vaghasia, Founder and Parenting Coach, We Positive Parenting, Ahmedabad, in a mid-day article comments on the importance of exercise in children stating that it’s important to encourage your child by setting up a family routine.

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Science indicates that exercise releases endorphins and serotonin – those ‘feel-good’ hormones that leave us feeling happier and rejuvenated. When activities are done outdoors, in the sunshine and fresh air, our bodies also absorb much-needed Vitamin D, which reduces feelings of depression. An added benefit is that children will most likely sleep better and feel more rested.

Physical activity also leaves children feeling less stressed, gives them better problem-solving abilities and helps them see a challenging homework assignment with fresh eyes. An added benefit is that children will most likely sleep better and feel more rested.

As children become fitter and stronger through play, active games and physical activity, they learn new skills, which helps to build self-confidence around their abilities and leaves them with a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

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By developing healthy exercise habits in children from an early age, parents can help their children form lifelong routines. Encouraging children to join a team sport at school or a club will not only give them a sense of belonging, but it will teach them the importance of teamwork and communicating with others for a shared positive outcome.

Image: Pexels

Another way to encourage a healthy lifestyle is to lead by example. Evidence shows that parenting practices are associated with how children prefer to play.

’’I have seen my parents wake up early, and workout on a regular basis which inspired me in my childhood and it led me to run marathons today and further ahead I have put my children into vigorous sports since a very young age and today exercising and being active is an essential part of their lifestyle," says Asha in the mid-day article.

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An active lifestyle is not only essential for children’s physical growth and disease prevention, it also positively impacts their health and well-being later in life.

While it’s often challenging to pry children away from technology, you can start organising a fun daily family activity that involves movement, such as skipping over the sprinkler, gardening, a treasure hunt or obstacle course in the garden, walking the dogs in the park, tree climbing, hiking, playing tennis, riding a bicycle, roller skating, ice skating or dancing. There are so many activities to choose from!

Turn household chores and children's responsibilities into a game or challenge that they have to complete while giving them praise for successful tasks completed. This is also an ideal way to spend quality time with your children. Try it out, you’ve got nothing to lose.

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