Physical education lessons are a required syllabus in Singaporean schools for a good reason – physical activity couldn’t be more important to a child’s physical, mental and emotional development. Like it or not, there is no denying that physical activity presents so many benefits to your child that exercise should definitely be encouraged whenever possible.
Photo: Active Health
10 ways physical activity promotes child development
• Physical growth
Exercise, like food, is a fundamental part of a child’s physical growth. Exercise helps your child build stronger muscles and bones acting as a stimulus for the body to adapt to. Developing a good physical foundation from a young age includes healthy bone mass and density, which will reduce the risk of developing bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis later on in life.
• Better fitness
Physical strength is built through exercise and being strong has tons of benefits to a growing child, such as being able to walk longer distances without getting tired and having the strength to perform their daily tasks. Exercise also promotes flexibility and stability.
• Refinement of motor skills
For younger children, physical activity during playtime helps with the development of motor skills, which is responsible for helping them master the basic movements they need for everyday life. The development of a child’s motor skills means that basic feats such as feeding oneself, tying one’s shoelaces and even writing can be attained much faster.
• Better posture
Slouching is a common problem in many children and exercise helps to counter this negative trend by improving a child’s posture by increasing core and spine strength. Good posture goes a long way in life – it protects a child’s spine from deformation due to excessive slouching and also reduces the chances of experiencing body aches due to bad posture.
• Weight management
Nothing burns calories as successfully as physical activity, making exercise an essential activity when it comes to weight management. While most parents feel the urge to pamper their child by letting them eat as much as they want, it should be known that obesity during childhood comes with a high risk of remaining obese as an adult. According to the Health Promotion Board, this figure is estimated to be as high as 70%!
• Maintaining cardiovascular health
Chubby kids are seen as adorable by their parents, but all that extra fat comes with a health cost. Childhood obesity puts children at risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes later on in their life or worse, at a younger age.
• Cognitive development
Exercise isn’t all about getting buff; it also helps with brain development! During exercise, nerve cells in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain are triggered to multiply and form new connections. This results in improved concentration and better memory, which are traits that will definitely serve a school-going child’s academic needs well!
• Better mental health
While exercise can seem like a dreadful chore to some children, the actual act of exercising becomes something of a cathartic experience once the child gets into the flow of exercise. Physical activity helps with stress and anxiety relief, and the rush of feel-good hormones it releases promotes better moods. Nothing warms the heart of a parent more than than the sight of a happy child!
• Improved self-esteem
Along with improving a child’s mental health and mood, exercise also boosts a child’s self-esteem. Being good at a certain sport is definitely a confidence raiser for children. The fact that exercise helps with weight control also helps to promote a healthy self-image in children. Finally, exercise is a great way for children to make friends and being part of a social group definitely contributes to a child’s self-esteem.
• Social skills development
Exercise not only provides children with an opportunity to make new friends, it also helps them develop and nurture their social skills. Team sports, for instance, help children to hone crucial communication skills such as learning how to read non-verbal cues, practising teamwork and adopting leadership roles.
All the developmental benefits of exercise have a significant impact on a child’s long-term health. The physical, mental and emotional benefits derived from exercise will prepare a child well for his or her teenage and adult years. If you are wondering when to start making exercise a regular activity in your child’s life, the answer would be: it’s never too soon! Whether your child is currently a toddler, kindergartner or primary school student, exercise deserves a spot in their life. Here are some of the basics to get you started:
Basic rules of exercise
• How much exercise?
In general, children above six years old should get a total of at least one hour of exercise a day. This can be broken down into shorter intervals to cater to shorter attention spans.
When it comes to organised or team sports, the general rule is that the number of hours a week should not exceed the child’s age.
• Types of exercises
It’s important to ensure your child engages in the three different types of exercise: aerobic, strength-training and weight-bearing. These exercises focus on different areas and engaging in all three will ensure that your child reaps the maximum benefits of exercise. Aerobic exercises focus on training stamina while strength-training and weight-bearing focus on building strong muscles and bones.
Photo: Active Health
The best exercises for children
Planning exercise activities for children doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Many children have a natural tendency to enjoy exercise, so getting them to break a sweat isn’t too difficult. Here are some of the best exercises you can introduce to a child (that you can join in too):
Running makes a wonderful exercise because chances are you probably don’t really have to force your child to do it since most children love running! Help your child channel the joy of running into regular jogs so that the love for running sticks with them as they grow older.
Type: Weight-bearing, cardio
Bring any kid to a bouncy castle or trampoline and they will definitely have a whale of a time! The simple act of jumping makes an excellent type of exercise for children as it helps with muscle strengthening but can also serve as a source of heart-pumping cardio. Practising their landing also helps with muscular coordination and balance. Another great way to make a child jump more is to get them a skipping rope – kids will definitely love it!
Type: Strength training
Planks may not be the most fun exercise, but they are definitely beneficial. Spice things up by turning it into a mini-competition between your child and yourself! Planks build a strong core, helping with posture and balance.
Type: Strength training
Similar to sit-ups, push-ups may be a rather mundane exercise, but they do your child lots of good when it comes to building strength. For boys, training push-ups from a young age will help them better prepare themselves for National Service when the time comes.
Incorporating games to make exercise fun
Putting our kids through exercise drills and timed routines may seem like the easiest approach, but don’t forget to incorporate an element of fun. After all, it will be so much easier to get your children to commit to exercise plans when they actually enjoy it! This is why you should consider incorporating games into your kids’ exercises. You don’t have to get too technical on the games – simple ones like relay races will do.
One good game to try out is the classic “traffic light” game many of us knew and loved. In this one, each colour of the traffic light is tasked with an action command.
For example, green = running, orange = jumping, red = squatting. Upon a verbal command, the kids switch from action to action – it’s a simple game but can be loads of fun when done in a big group! So, when it comes to organising exercise, try to encourage big group activities and always aim to make exercise fun.
Photo: Active Health
Keeping exercise safe
• Have proper warm-ups and cool-downs
The importance of warm-up and cool-down routines cannot be overstated. Getting the body warmed up and ready before exercise reduces the risk of injury significantly, as does cooling down. You can make boring warm-up and cool-down sessions more fun by playing some of your child’s favourite tunes!
• Wear the right attire
Always ensure your kids are in proper exercise attire from head to toe before starting on any exercise. The right kind of clothes will minimise discomfort due to sweating and heat, so invest in quality dri-fit clothing. Shoes are of utmost importance because the right shoes can prevent injury and even facilitate exercise, so don’t skimp when it comes to buying sports shoes!
• Stay hydrated
Bring along lots of water with your child whenever you bring him or her out for exercise, and also ensure they drink up an hour before exercise, so their body is well-hydrated. Injuries such as heatstroke can happen as a result of dehydration and can turn your child off from future exercise sessions.
• Have rest days
Lastly, rest days are crucial to prevent your child from overexerting his or her muscles and bones. Exercising on strained muscles increases the risk of injury and muscle damage, so always give your child rest days – even if they protest! Fun alternatives include taking a leisurely stroll by the beach or just nestling up with a fun stay-at-home story.
In a nutshell, physical activity is the gateway to optimising a child’s development in many ways. The benefits of physical activity will follow a child through their growing years all the way to adulthood, so start engaging your child in exercise as soon as you can! If you are unsure of how to structure workouts or plan games, don’t hesitate to get help from our Active Health Coaches at the Active Health Labs located island-wide. Children are naturally fun-loving and vivacious creatures – all you need to do is to flip the right switch and stand back for the fireworks!