The early years make up an important developmental phase in any person’s life. Up to the age of 18, we’re constantly learning new habits, information and behaviors – while establishing foundations that will shape our experiences as an adult. As a Together Counts™ partner, we recognize childhood represents both opportunity and vulnerability when it comes to promoting a healthier lifestyle.
For children to thrive, they need support and stimulation both at home, and in school. Because a healthy lifestyle demands physical activity, child care programs and schools that reduce recess and physical education for children could be damaging their development – stunting their emotional and physical growth. Studies have already begun to prove the link between exercise and intelligence, cognition, character development and emotional stability, showing that play is a huge part of the early developmental phase.
Physical Activity Promotes Healthier Characteristics
According to the U.S. Department of Health, children should get no less than one hour of physical activity a day in order to fight back against skyrocketing public issues like heart disease, diabetes and obesity. However, physical benefits are not the only reason behind a child’s need for regular exercise. Numerous studies continue to show a positive correlation between the physical activity level of children, and his or her mental development. Active play gives children an opportunity to explore creatively, while developing their minds, as well as emotional and physical strength.
When children have the chance to participate in organized sports or physical education classes, the basic values they learn during the earliest developmental periods become further emphasized; including the values of sharing, working together and respect. Through participation in physical education, young people learn key values to carry with them throughout their lives, such as:
- Adherence to rules
- Respect for themselves and others
- How to engage in fair play
- Working as a team
Physical education also provides a platform that allows young people to learn how to manage competition and cope with winning or losing.
A Healthy Lifestyle Links with Academics
Aside from the social skills that children learn through physical activity, regular exercise benefits a child’s brain in a number of ways, from improved memory to enhanced levels of concentration. Regular activity allows brain cells to grow, which leads to better focus and cognitive performance. As a result, children who are in better shape physically also have better academic results than those who do not exercise. At the same time, exercise promotes better sleep, which is another aspect responsible for boosting the formation of the brain.
Healthier Lifestyles Make Happier Children
Regular physical activity also has a positive impact on the mental health of a child. Numerous studies have shown undeniable relationships between the frequency of a child’s physical activity levels, and their mental health in association with emotional distress, anxiety, depression and self-esteem. The same phenomenon applies for all ages – people who have had particularly stressful days often blow off steam after work with an afternoon run.
In other words, as a result of physical activity, children are likely to perform better in school, establish friendships, be more mentally healthy, and learn social lessons – all factors important for the future.
Children Need to Move to Develop
Physical activity plays a crucial rule in the general development of a child, from establishing motor skills, to ensuring psychological wellbeing, emotional maturity and cognitive focus. Children who are inactive are more likely to suffer from health problems, and could even be exposed to physical, psychological, and social issues that impact the rest of their lives.
A greater focus on physical education could ensure that children consistently engage in enough physical activity to support brain health, a better lifestyle, and good character.
SPARK is a research-based organization that provides award-winning, evidence-based programs for Physical Education (K-12), After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health and is a member of the Together Counts Program™. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum, training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders worldwide. Visit www.sparkpe.org to download sample lesson plans, find grant opportunities, and register for free educational webinars and monthly eNewsletters.
For more tips on living healthfully, check out these other posts from Together Counts!