Posted: August 4th, 2022
Ah yes, the annual visit to the doctor’s office for the routine checkup. We all know drill - "how is your diet?", "are you sleeping well?", and of course, "how much exercise do you get?"
After being asked this question countless times, we tend to pick up on the notion that exercise is important for our health, but why is that?
To understand this, we must first understand what health is. Though today's society has adopted the word “healthy” and associated it with green juice and yoga, the World Health Organization defines health as “the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Additionally, health can be described as “a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living.”
We all strive to raise our little ones to be healthy, but if that goes beyond our basic conceptions of health, then what do we really need to know?
Health and Exercise
Exercise is one of the most fundamental parts of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The human body is filled with natural chemicals called hormones that are important for many functions - from maintaining our sleep cycle to regulating our body’s water retention system.
Endorphins, one type of hormone you might be familiar with, are released in the body during certain activities (such as exercise), and act to bring the body to a state of well-being. There’s a reason endorphins are often called the “natural painkillers”!
While exercise is something that we all need, there are several ways that kids in particular benefit from it during their early years.
1. Mental Health Benefits
Mental health is a critical component of our well-being and begins to develop from a young age. In fact, individuals aged 15-24 are the highest-risk age group in Canada to suffer from mental illness.
For years, mental health has been overlooked and taken a back seat to to physical injury or illness, partly because it is invisible. This said, new brain research is working to counter the foundations of this belief and bring light to its importance. In the case of depression, explorations of the mood disorder are working to uncover the real, physical effects of the illness on the human body, which include the disruption of internal neurotransmitter and hormonal transmission systems.
When we exercise, the endorphins released help regulate our mood, energy levels, and sleep patterns, leading to overall increased resilience, confidence, and improved mental health.
2. Academic performance
The age-old battle between balancing sports with school work is one that many families are familiar with. Sports before school? School before sports? The truth is the two may actually fall hand-in-hand. One branch of research points to the benefits of exercise on attention and memory through the action of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - a natural molecule in our bodies which may be involved in brain plasticity changes that can result in improved cognitive performance.
3. Muscle and Bone Health
Some of the more obvious benefits of exercise we know of are those it has on our body systems. For instance, exercise is said to increase lung health through boosting respiratory volume, and is known to help both the vascular and skeletal systems through improving function, and increasing bone density, respectively.
4. Reduced Risk of Disease and Health Problems
Perhaps a more long-term benefit of regular exercise to kids health is that it may reduce the risk of developing certain diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Further, physical activity may aid children's health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For those diagnosed with diabetes, physical activity is also said to promote insulin function in the body, allowing for enhanced blood sugar regulation.
Exercise Guidelines for Children
According to the Canadian government, children ages 5-11 are recommended to participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day.
But getting exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Moving our bodies is fun and is an enjoyable way for children to be creative and stay healthy at the same time. Some great ways for kids to get active include:
Walking the dog
Walking or riding bikes to school
Water sports like swimming, canoeing, or kayaking
Participating in sports in and/or outside of school
Weekly family walks or hikes
Outdoor tasks such as shoveling snow or raking leaves
Dancing to music
You can read more about the benefits of exercise to kids here and feel free to leave us a comment down below!