by Blake Herzog
Few things are as fundamental to our overall health as maintaining our level of physical activity, beginning as soon as we take our first steps. It only gets more important for kids as they get older, with the CDC recommending those ages 6 to 17 get a full hour of exercise every day.
Being active helps protect them from physical and mental illness. Teaching them that habit early on can prolong their lifespan through these benefits:
- Weight management — Especially when paired with a healthy diet, movement, and the benefit it brings to the heart, lungs, muscles and the rest of their bodily systems keep kids’ weight within a healthy range.
Sedentary lifestyles have contributed to a rising obesity rate among children and teens, currently at 19.7% nationwide, according to the CDC, with higher rates for Hispanic and Black youth.
- Heart disease prevention — The heart sees more benefits from exercise than perhaps any other organ through building its capacity and strength. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., so protecting its health from Day One is crucial.
- Immune system boost — While science has yet to confirm any surefire way to rev up the immune system, the most effective fix that’s been found for all ages is an overall healthy lifestyle including physical activity, which can improve circulation of immune cells along with the blood that carries them.
- Injury prevention — The more time kids spend playing sports, running, climbing, jumping and moving any which way they can, the more time they spend learning the best ways to move to prevent themselves from falling and other injuries; skills that will be used for the rest of their lives.
- Lower blood sugar — Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at increasingly young ages. When kids are active they build their muscles, which can store and use glucose in a beneficial manner and reduce its levels within the bloodstream.
A healthy, low-sugar diet also is important for long-term health.
- Depression prevention — Concerns about mental health are skyrocketing along with the rates that depression and anxiety are being diagnosed among kids, teens and young adults. Consistent physical activity increases the flow of endorphins and other chemicals that improve mood and increase energy.
- Stress reduction — Exercise reduces levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol and can become a positive focus when kids (and adults) are dealing with stressful and anxious feelings. This is a great tool for helping them learn how to regulate their emotions on their own.
- Increased self-confidence — The hours spent learning and refining physical skills through repeated practice helps to build self-confidence in children that can carry over to social and academic activities and into their eventual careers and relationships.
- Improved sleep — With adequate physical activity kids are more likely to get adequate sleep. They’re less likely to have elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels by the time they go to bed, and spending more time away from screens also equals less disruption of their circadian rhythm.