You probably already know that one of the main benefits of exercise for children is maintaining good physical health and a healthy weight – but did you know that sports and exercise could also help our kids’ brains? The advantages of exercise during childhood, whether at home or as part of Physical Education classes at school, are more complex than we think.
Regular physical activity can have a positive impact on both mind and body, with the effects being evident right through into adulthood. Here, we talk about some of the reasons why physical exercise is important for kids, and give a few great ideas for activities that you can do as a family to stay active and exercise together.
Why is Exercise Important for Kids?
In terms of physical development, exercise encourages the use of muscles – particularly those that aren’t fully utilised doing everyday tasks. Both muscle and bone mass can be greatly enhanced through common kids’ exercise activities such as running, climbing, and gymnastics.
The best part is that muscle and bone density acquired in childhood is often maintained into adulthood, reducing the risk of age-related musculoskeletal disorders that can affect mobility, balance, and overall confidence. In terms of psychological development, exercise during childhood plays a major role, not only upon a child’s wellbeing, but also upon their academic successes and opportunities in adulthood.
Studies have consistently found that more active children tend to perform better on intellectual tasks, and there’s actually scientific evidence to back this up. Fitter children tend to display larger basal ganglia – the part of the brain responsible for learning.
Exactly why this part of the brain is larger in more active children isn’t known, although sports professional Chrissie Gallagher, speaking to Surf excel, explained that exercise allows the brain to rest.
How to Exercise and Stay Active at Home
There are lots of online references offering ideas for fun exercises for kids! With a range of kids’ exercise video tutorials available on YouTube (this UK series on kids’ yoga is particularly good, and video workout tutorials like this one by Vanitha TV are great for rainy days) and websites like kidshealth.org around, you’re sure to find something to get your little ones up and active.
We’ve picked out some of our favourite exercises below! It’s worth remembering that the great importance of exercise for kids is that it’s a great opportunity get messy and have a bit of fun! That’s why we’ve collected a few fun favourites to help you get your little ones up and excited about being active.
The problem many of us face as parents is that many sporting activities take place outdoors, and if we live in the city there aren’t many safe spaces for our kids to play freely. There are, however, places to go to play in the city – and more than a few outdoor games for city kids, too. There are also plenty of exercises kids can do either in the comfort of their own home, in a local park, or even in an exercise studio.
Exercise for children under 7 shouldn’t be too structured – it’s far more important for small children to just have fun and let off steam, rather than comply with complex rules. Exercise for kids who are older, however, is different, as they may enjoy team sports or exercises with a clear goal. Here are some great activities to consider:
For Young Children, Bubble Blowing
Move your furniture to one side of the room so that you have a nice empty space in which to play. Using a bubble blower from your local store (these can be very inexpensive), blow bubbles for your kids and encourage them to try catching them. It’s so much fun that they won’t even realise it’s exercise, and yet chasing after the bubbles will really help to get them fit, and – most importantly, perhaps – tire them out ready for bed!
For Older Children, Follow the Leader
It probably comes as no surprise to hear that kids are more likely to partake in an activity if their parents are involved. Children learn by example, and being a role model for fitness and motivation is one of the most important things we can do for our kids. Do some exercises yourself, and encourage your kids to follow your lead and copy what you do. Make it fun by pulling funny faces or standing in funny poses as you go – your kids will love it!
For more great examples of kids’ exercise activities, check out our experts' sports and exercise podcast here on the Surf excel website. And don’t forget to share your ideas with us in the comment box below – what games do you and your kids like to play together?