In Australia, 1 in 4 kids are considered overweight or obese. The likelihood of obesity increases dramatically in adulthood, where almost 2 in 3 Australian adults are now considered overweight or obese. Given that obesity is Australia’s second highest contributor to the burden of disease (ahead of smoking!), good habits must be formed early in life. Proper physical activity is one way we can combat obesity, and reduce the risks of associated diseases. Also, parents are key to helping form good exercise habits and encouraging healthy behaviours. So, what happens to our kids when they don’t engage in enough physical activity?
Childhood stress has increased over the last few decades, with 40% of kids reporting feeling stressed and overly worried. Prolonged stress in young children can slow, or even stop, brain development and physical growth. Furthermore, a study at Princeton University found that mice who exercised were better equipped to handle stressful scenarios than inactive mice. Regular exercise relieves the stress response and counters it with the release of feel-good hormones.
Lack of exercise can lead to a diminished sense of well-being. Good mental health is vital for learning and life, and helps kids enjoy their daily experiences, build positive and meaningful relationships with others, and develop vital coping skills for later in life. Vigorous aerobic exercise stimulates your body to release endorphins and dopamine, which helps to elevate kids’ mood, relieve anxiety and reduce the risk of developing depression.
Lack of exercise also affects sleep patterns positively. The recommendation is that school age kids and teens sleep between 9 and 11 hours a night, depending on their age. However, inactive children are more likely to have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. Sleep deprivation builds over time, so an hour or so less per night can equate to nearly a whole night of missed sleep by the end of the week. Not enough sleep can cause attention problems, inconsistent performance, short-term memory loss and delays in response times. When kids exercise regularly they find it’s much easier to maintain regular and healthy sleep patterns.
Exercise boosts brain power and improves academic results. Also, research proves that moderate activity increases brain function, cognition and academic performance in children. Moreover, exercise boosts the blood flow to the brain which assists kids with everything, from concentration and alertness to problem solving. Lack of physical activity means that your children may miss out on these benefits, and not reach their full academic potential at school.
It’s more difficult to maintain a healthy weight and regulate blood pressure without regular physical activity. Overweight kids are more prone to developing high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, they do not strengthen their bones and muscles, increasing the risks for brittle bones, osteoporosis and muscle atrophy when they are older. Regular exercise can help to reduce the risk of developing disease, now and in later life.
So, the message is clear: physically active kids are physically and psychologically healthier and perform better in school. However, in this modern era of technology, more and more kids are sedentary and not getting their daily recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. In fact, a study shows that 3 out of 4 kids are not getting enough exercise. Kids and teens are more likely than ever before to spend hours every day in front of TVs, mobile devices and computers, watching videos, playing games, or using social media. One of the best ways to encourage kids to be active is by limiting sedentary activities.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that:
Initially, it can be difficult to limit sedentary behaviour in kids. However, the health benefits of increased physical activity make it worthwhile. Remember that instilling healthy habits from a young age will set your child up for life. Especially as they experience the rewards associated with exercise and physical activity.
If you’re having difficulty getting your child off the couch, and moving, try these tips:
If you’re not sure where to get started when getting your kids more active, Australian Sports Camps coaching programs are a great way to sample different sports for a few days each to see what your child enjoys the most.