We all know the benefits of exercise for adults. It builds strong muscles, gives us energy, clears our minds, and a million other things.
But, the benefits of exercise are not limited to adults. Exercise is great for our kids as well. It can improve their physical and mental health and sets them up for including exercise in their lifestyle as they get older. Below are some of the health benefits of exercise for your kids.
Benefits of Exercise for Children
1. Exercise strengthens the heart.
The heart is a muscle. And therefore, like any other muscle, it benefits from exercise. The heart responds to exercise by becoming stronger and more efficient. Strengthening your heart can help ward off disease. Endurance exercises are great for achieving this benefit.
2. Exercise improves energy levels.
Regular exercise makes people feel more energetic. It actually increases your energy instead of using it up. It lets you be more active, and reduces the likelihood that you’ll get tired during the day.
3. Exercise reduces blood sugar levels.
Exercise causes your muscles to take in more glucose from your blood in order to use it for energy. This prevents sugar from accumulating in the bloodstream. As a result, this can reduce a person's risk of developing diabetes.
4. Exercise helps keep arteries and veins clear.
Exercise has the benefit of reducing the amount of harmful cholesterol in your blood. It also increases the flexibility of the walls of blood vessels, and can even help to lower blood pressure. This in turn can reduce a person's risk for heart attack and stroke.
5. Exercise strengthens the lungs.
When you are doing activities that cause you to breathe hard, the body responds by increasing lung capacity, and the lung’s efficiency in moving air in and out of the body. As a result, more oxygen is able to enter the body and more carbon dioxide and other waste gases are expelled.
Regular exercise helps prevent the decline in oxygen intake that occurs naturally with age or as a result of inactivity.
6. Exercise helps prevent cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, people who exercise regularly have a lower incidence of cancer. The cancers most affected include colon, uterine, and breast cancers.
7. Exercise controls weight.
When you aren’t moving around as much, your body may not be utilizing all of the calories you are taking in. Those unused calories get stored as body fat. On the other hand, someone who is physically active may have a deficit of calories, can reduce fat and decrease weight.
8. Exercise strengthens bones.
In the same way that muscles grow stronger when being taxed, bones can also get stronger through exercise. Exercise increases bone density, which helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition where bones lose density, weaken, and become porous and fragile.
9. Exercise regulates blood pressure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise in almost any form has been shown to reduce stress. As your level of stress decreases, your blood pressure and risk for heart disease also declines.
10. Exercise enhances emotional well-being.
For most people, exercise can provide a sense of calm, happiness, and physical well-being once completed. According to one theory, exercise releases beta-endorphin, a natural substance in the body that is hundreds of times more potent than morphine.
Another theory points to serotonin as the cause of the exercise high. Increased levels of serotonin in the central nervous system are associated with feelings of well-being and lessening of mental depression.
The weight loss that accompanies exercise can also cause people to feel better about themselves.
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In addition to the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle the physical and emotional challenges that a typical day presents like running to catch a bus, bending down to tie a shoe or studying for a test.
The Three Elements of Fitness
Increasing your fitness doesn’t have to mean going to the gym to hit the weights or jumping on a cardio machine. In fact, for you and your kids it can just mean playing and being physically active.
Kids get exercise in gym class, dance class, recess, riding bikes, or playing tag. These activities incorporate the 3 element of physical fitness necessary for kids: endurance, strength, and flexibility.
If you’ve ever watched kids on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of fitness in action when they:
run away from the kid who’s “it” (endurance)
cross the monkey bars (strength)
bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility)
It’s best to encourage your kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements of fitness.
You child can develop endurance when they regularly engage in aerobic activity. These are activities that cause the heart to beat faster and the person to breathe harder.
When done regularly and for an extended period of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to its cells.
Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. In fact, body weight exercises are great for kids. This can include push ups, tricep dips, and crunches.
While some kids can benefit from lifting weights, it should be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who will work with them to do it safely. Kids can also incorporate strength activities when they are playing doing activities like climbing, doing a handstand or wrestling.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, which allows muscles and joints to bend and move through their full range of motion. Kids can find opportunities to stretch during everyday life when they try to get a toy just out of reach or practice a split.
List of Exercises for Kids
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Examples of aerobic activities include:
Examples of exercises for strength include:
Some activities that incorporate stretching include:
Games like Twister or Dr. Seuss Super Stretchy ABC Game
How Much Exercise Does a Kid Need a Day?
As parents, we need to ensure that our kids are getting enough exercise. But it’s hard to know how much is enough.
As a general guideline, all children 2 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) offers specific recommendations for kids:
No minimum daily activity requirements. Physical activity should encourage motor development.
Minimum daily activity requirement: 1.5 hours. 30 minutes should be planned physical activity and 60 minutes should be unstructured physical activity (free play)
Minimum daily activity requirement: 2 hours. 60 minutes should be planned physical activity and 60 minutes should be unstructured physical activity (free play)
Minimum daily activity requirement: 1 hour. Break it up into bouts of 15 minutes or more
Family Workout Routines
While I love exercising in solitude since it gives me a chance to have quiet and form complete thoughts, that's not always possible. Exercising with the kiddos can be fun too.
I love having dance parties with the kiddos or chasing them around the backyard. These are great ways to just have fun and not feel like you are exercising while still getting a great workout.
This past Sunday I brought the kiddos to the park and I did the monkey bars while they watched in amazement (at least that’s my interpretation). I also lifted each kid to help them get across the monkey bars and I pushed them on the swings too. We even chased each other around the park. I got my workout in without having to make it a whole separate part of my day.
If on the other hand, you want something a little more structured, check out these family workout videos for some inspiration.
A Quick and Easy Family Workout
Workout for Kids and Parents
Fitness Blender Kids Workout - 25 Minute Fun Workout for Kids at Home
I hope this inspires you to get your kids moving and to get yourself moving right along with them. It is so important to get your body moving and this is a habit we should be encouraging in our kids as well.
What’s your favorite way to get active with the kiddos? Let me know in the comments.