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The Importance of Physical Activity in Childhood Development and How to Promote It at Home

Physical activity is fun and healthy for kids. So why is it that so many seem to miss out on the opportunity to get moving? A recent scientific review revealed that only about 25% of American children get the recommended levels of physical activity. And most of these kids enjoy said activity through school programs and initiatives, even if they have the option of exercising at public parks or at home.

Admittedly, it can be challenging for kids (and adults) to learn to "like to move it." But motivating children to exercise is rewarding, especially since physical activity does wonders for their development. To illustrate this all-important point, here's a look at the benefits of physical activity for childhood development –– plus some fun tips that will help you and your kids reap these benefits!

The Role of Physical Activity in Childhood Development

The CDC recommends that individuals between the ages of 6 and 17 get at least an hour of physical activity each day. While this may seem like a lot to fit in, it's the optimal amount of time needed to boost the development of their bodies.

By encouraging kids to meet this recommendation for exercise, you're helping them build healthy bones, muscles, and joints. Exercise is also crucial for kids who are still growing into their bodies, since it teaches them how to control their muscles and coordinate their movements properly. And aside from developing their physical bodies and abilities, you're also teaching healthy habits and establishing a positive relationship with physical activity.

The benefits of exercise aren’t limited to physical factors, either. Studies have shown for instance that aerobic exercise can immediately improve the cognitive function of children, with kids proven to perform better on tests after exercising. Children who regularly meet the recommendations of physical activity also develop long-term improvements in their planning ability, task performance, cognitive flexibility, and memory retention.

Generally speaking, some of the exercise needs of kids are met in school and community programs - like through PowerUp Your School! Teachers of younger children typically incorporate physical activity into the average day, and health educators play an important role in many school and community environments in making exercise more fun and accessible to kids. Guided by their knowledge of hands-on training and coaching, these professionals can help families and educators to create age-appropriate exercise programs for children.

Building on these options however, you can also explore ways of promoting more activity at home –– which is where there's an opportunity for more.

3 Fun Ways to Promote Physical Activity at Home

1. Turn exercise into a game

Kids love games. So if you want to encourage them to exercise, you can always ask them to complete physical activities in a game format. To illustrate with an example, we've pointed out that the “Bop It” game is a great tool for motivating kids to twist, spin, and jump. (As an added bonus, kids also get to familiarize themselves with non-verbal and verbal cues through the commands!) 2. Make it a family bonding activity It may be challenging to get the whole family involved, but exercising with family can definitely motivate kids. The CDC recommends this strategy specifically because adults can set a positive example for their children when they exercise themselves. You might try taking walks around the neighborhood as a family or playing games together in the backyard (or even living room). Whatever the solution, by getting everyone involved, you're creating an environment where kids feel comfortable with exercise and physical activity. 3. Provide time for free play After spending time with the kids, you can sit back and relax while they enjoy their time for free play. Kids often have their own preferred sport or physical activity, so it’s important to give them the independence to do the activities that they want. Allow them to ride their bikes around the neighborhood, or even dance to their favorite tunes so that they can get moving in their own way. Exercise is fundamental to your child's development, so it's important to provide opportunities for it in as many ways as you can. Ideally, your kid will get a suitable amount of activity through school and/or after-school programs. But even if this is the case, you can do your part to make sure exercise is a fun and engaging activity at home as well! Use different strategies so that your child gets motivated to make physical activity a part of their daily routine.

Article written by Riva Jamila

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