One of the best steps we can take for our health is to be physically active on a regular basis. Ideally, this activity habit starts in early childhood and continues as we grow and develop, but it’s never too late to start becoming more active.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) sets activity guidelines, based on research showing the benefits of physical activity for all ages, races, genders and ability levels. The CDC recommends that preschool aged children, ages 3-5, should be physically active throughout the day through various play activities, while the recommendation for children and adolescents, ages 6-17, is a mix of aerobic and strengthening activities for at least 60 minutes daily.
Physical literacy, which is defined by the National Association of Physical Literacy as the ability, balance, confidence, desire, and explorative nature to be active for life, develops through movement and exploration of the surrounding environment. Starting in infancy, we start to navigate the world around us, using trial and error to develop the foundational skills of movement. These are the building blocks that we are able to expand upon later, learning and creating more complex movement patterns.
It is often this early activity level that will determine how active an individual will be through their life. Without the basic foundation of movement skills, children struggle to stay physically active, but those with developed physical literacy skills are more likely to enjoy athletic pursuits and be active for life. Kids who learn to move better are more likely to want to keep moving.
Which leads to what we know…active kids do better in life. (The Aspen Institute, Project Play)
Active kids are more likely to be at a healthy weight from childhood to adulthood, with 1/10 the risk of obesity as compared to inactive children. Childhood obesity is directly linked to lack of exercise and nearly 20% of American children between the ages of 2-19 are obese.
Physical activity promotes normal growth and development, and improves sleep, which translates into better attention in school, better test scores, and a higher likelihood that a child will attend college. In adulthood, this translates to improved productivity at work, with likelihood for increased annual earnings when compared to sedentary counterparts.
Kids who are active have been shown to participate less often in risky behaviors, including smoking, drinking and drug use.
Seven out of 10 of the most common chronic diseases can be positively impacted by regular physical activity, including a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and Type II diabetes. Healthy habits lead to lower health costs and an overall decrease in morbidity.
Healthy, active kids tend to become healthy active adults. Children of active parents are twice as likely to be active themselves.
As a parent, teacher, coach or role model, the most important step is creating a positive environment that focuses on fun and building the basic movement skills before sport specific skills. Providing encouragement and praise over criticism is how we can instill a love for physical activity into the children in our lives.
Since not all kids are innately active creatures, some need more encouragement than others to get up and get moving. Increasing physical activity in kids is about finding creative ways to get moving that work for your family and your busy lifestyle. Maybe it’s a family walk or bike ride that appeals to your family. Perhaps signing your child up for an organized activity to build movement skills, such as swimming, gymnastics or soccer is ideal. Or maybe simply making household chores into a movement game is what gets everyone up and moving. Physical activity does not have to be complicated or costly to be effective.
It remains equally as important to keep up physical activity levels during the cold, winter months when hibernation seems like an ideal alternative. Outdoor activities can range from organized skiing or sledding to chaotic snowball fights, making snow angels or simply trekking through the snow to get the heart rate up. Inside the house, there are all sorts of activities that can be done with limited space and equipment, from dance parties, to animal races (move like a crab, bear, or frog) to balloon ball or a movement based game of Simon Says.
Another great indoor idea came from my favorite story from this past 2018 XC series, from the mom of a little boy who participated in Fall 2017 and could not wait to participate in the “people race” the next year. He created an imaginary race in his home, attached a number to his shirt, and would run laps around the dining room table with his stuffed animals cheering him on. He is off to a great start!
During these cold days, a fun warmer weather activity to look forward to is the CCR Kids XC Series held Sunday afternoons in the fall. The series is a great way to encourage physical activity and movement in a fun, low stress environment, while showing your kids how fantastic the Baltimore-area running community can be! Stay tuned for more information about the Fall Kids Cross Country Series.
About the Author: Emily Coates
Emily Coates, PT, DPT is a Baltimore area physical therapist and runner, focused on getting kids active and healthy, and keeping them that way. Emily earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Clarkson University in 2009, and has been a part of the MedStar Sports Medicine team since 2014. Emily's experience is diverse, but she brings special focus to the treatment of orthopedic and sports injuries of the pediatric and adolescent population, including management of concussions and addressing poor coordination in early sports participation. She is an active member of MedStar’s Pediatric Sports Medicine and Running specialty groups, and the creator of the Active Kids program.