If I told you that there is one ‘Back to School’ item that is missing from your list? This item is so important it increases brain size, improves focus, decreases stress, and improves academic success. You would want to add it, wouldn’t you? You would wonder how something so important could be overlooked and of course, you would want your child to have the upper-hand and you would run out to purchase this magic solution to back to school success! Well, you do not need to “run” out or pull up your Amazon account to order anything, because the answer is as simple as 60 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity and the only thing magic about it is the results!
It is very common knowledge that the physical health benefits of exercise in both adults and children are better overall health, decreased risk of obesity, stronger bones, decreased risk of cancer, decreased risk of diabetes, and decreased risk of heart disease. However, the mental benefits of exercise are oftentimes overlooked. Some of the mental benefits include decreased depression and anxiety, improved mood, better attention, better sleep, and better choices in nutrition. In children, these benefits are even more important and more prominent as exercise has been proven to increase brain growth, particularly the hippocampus area of the brain which is the region associated with learning and memory.
Studies have shown that children who meet the 60 minutes of sustained, moderate to rigorous physical activity daily benefit in the following ways that correlate with academic success.
- Perform better on spatial learning tasks (problem solving)
- Longer bouts of long-term brain cell potentiation (the increased efficiency of communication between neurons that occurs after neurons fire)
- More accuracy and faster reaction times in cognitive tasks that require much concentration
- Improved ability to filter out task-irrelevant information
- Enhanced long-term retention
- Higher test scores in math and reading
Students with ADHD, sensory issues, and anxiety show even more responses to exercise with increased social awareness and enhanced self-discipline.
The unfortunate thing is, less than 50% of children aged 6-7 (drops less and less with older ages) are getting this benefit. Even children who participate in competitive sports many-times are not actually meeting these guidelines as their practices and games may only be 2-4 times per week and are not continuous activity most of the time. Schools have lost funding as well, diminishing the ability to focus on fitness guidelines and decreasing the benefits related to Physical Education programs.
So, obviously physical activity should be made a priority when looking at your Fall schedule, but it’s not as simple as that. There are many obstacles to overcome to make physical activity a regular part of daily routine. As a society, families have become overscheduled. Couple that with that fact that if they do not have a passion for a sport or specific activity, most kids do not actually enjoy fitness. Just like adults, they think of it as work and because they don’t necessarily see immediate gratification, they may not appreciate the benefits.
What now? It is not expected that the transition to a more active lifestyle happen overnight. Increasing activity with small steps will lead to the giant leap of a life of fitness. Here are some ideas to try with your family:
- Walk or ride bikes to school or for errands if you can
- Start the day with 10 minutes of activity before beginning your daily routine – this can be as simple as an easy stretch or everyone walking the dog together
- Set goals – start with 10-15 minutes of moderate to rigorous activity daily for the first week and add a minute or two every week
- Try new things together – make a “bucket list” of activities that you would like to try as a family and let everyone take turns picking which activity they want the family to do
- Schedule in dedicated physical activity into your family’s routine – whether it’s after school or a weekend morning, take the time as a family to do something energetic and active
- Don’t make exercise seem like exercise or “work” – set a good example and talk about exercise in a positive way
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Have the kids help in household chores – raking leaves, shoveling snow are all good forms of exercise
- Make sure your regular fitness routine is fun, challenging without being frustrating and should include strength, aerobic, balance, coordination, and cognitive and flexibility exercises as well
- Sign up for a program like enerGEEwhizz that helps makes exercise fun and engaging
Giving your child the gift of fitness not only sets the path for a life of physical health and wellness, but their mental, social, and cognitive development as well. The improved report cards will just be a bonus!