W e all know that having an active childhood is generally a good thing for our children, but there are genuine health benefits associated with getting into exercise at a young age. Enjoying an active childhood pays dividends both in a child’s current health and in their long-term attitude to exercise.
Obviously, keeping youngsters moving allows them to maintain a normal body weight, even if they’re eating some of the more sugary options children tend to go for. Statistics from the most recent survey in the UK show that as many as 25 per cent of boys and 33 per cent of girls are overweight or obese. Experts now believe parents are so accustomed to seeing overweight children, they don’t recognise obesity in their own offspring. But exercise has other physical health benefits for children: it contributes to the development of healthy muscles, bones and joints as well as a healthy heart and lungs. It is also good for children to help develop co-ordination and movement control.
Exercise for any age group releases hormones linked to an improvement in mood. But even in the long term, studies have shown that in those young people suffering with any anxiety or mood problems, exercise can help with symptoms. For all children, exercise and sports encourages self confidence, self expression and integration with others: these are important tools for social development in children.
According to the World Health Organisation, school age children should get an hour of activity a day. That includes “sport”, but also running around at school, walking home or anything that would be moderate intensity activity. A good activity will make them huff and puff! This doesn’t have to be in one go but can be built up through the day. In young children in primary school this is relatively easy to achieve, as their default play position is to run around. We know from the recent BMA report that more than a quarter of children are sadly not doing enough exercise.
Psychological studies show that attitudes to sport and exercise are determined by family and childhood experience: if a child is in the habit of being active, this stays with them long term with all the health benefits that confers.