In a time when physical activity has taken a back seat to sedentary living, video games and social media, here are 5 reasons why kids’ fitness matters.
1) Kids’ Fitness Programs offer an Alternative to Organized Team Sports
For parents that have kids playing in sports, it’s easy to see the benefits that come along with athletics. Participating in sports is a great way for youth to stay fit and healthy, it is also a primary way for them to make social connections that often develop into life-long friendships. Unfortunately, if kids aren’t interested in playing sports, these opportunities will not present themselves as frequently.
Human beings are incredibly social creatures, so this is definitely an important part of the development process.
A youth fitness program offers the same social aspect of sports and provides the opportunity to make progress in health and fitness by improving balance, agility and aerobic conditioning, maintaining a healthy body composition, increasing strength and cultivating self-confidence that is built up as a result of these attributes. Consequently, kids that were once intimidated by sports may feel empowered to try them out at some point in their life.
2) Childhood Obesity is on the Rise
There has been a dramatic increase in unhealthy weights in Canada. Childhood obesity has been rising steadily in Canada in recent decades. The most recent data from Statistics Canada finds that 13% of children are obese and another 20% are overweight.
The single largest factor in childhood obesity is lack of physical activity and excessive sedentary behavior—that is to say, watching too much TV and playing too many video games. This was absurdly evident to me recently, while spending a Sunday afternoon at the Forks in Winnipeg. I had yet to see with my own eyes, the phenomenon known as ‘Pokémon Go.’
On this particular day, I must have dodged at least 10 kids who nearly ran into me while frantically swiping up on their smart phones (attempting to catch Pokémon’s).
In their defense, at least these kids were getting some activity by moving around while playing the game; I can’t say the same for the other 20+ Pokemoner’s who were glued to benches around the park grounds. I am not bashing Pokémon Go in particular, or the people that choose to play the game, it just happens to be latest craze right now. The point is that sedentary living, video games and social media have taken over our youth; it is blatantly obvious in the number of overweight children in Canada and is subsequently reflected in the direct and indirect healthcare costs. The economic burden due to direct health care costs and indirect costs due to lost productivity associated with obesity is estimated to be between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion in Canada annually (Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology).
3) More Likely to Practice Healthy Living as an Adult
A successful kids program will:
- Not be intimidating
- Focus on non-sport specific movements
- Be challenging without being overly competitive
- Use developmentally appropriate programming; and
- Emphasize having fun with fitness.
This type of program will create positive associations with exercise and instill healthy habits at an early age, dramatically increasing the likelihood of kids continuing to exercise in their adult years.
4) Regular Exercise Improves Academics and Mental Health
Research has shown that regular exercise can dramatically improve academic performance in youth. At the University of Illinois, a psycho-physiologist named Charles Hillman conducted a study with a group of 216 third and fifth graders and found a correlation between fitness and academics. Hillman went beyond correlating data, though. He wanted to dig into the neuroscience of these findings, so he took a group of forty kids – half fit, half unfit – and measured their attention, working memory, and processing speed. “During the cognitive testing…the electroencephalogram (EEG) showed more activity in fit kids’ brains indicating that more neurons involved in attention were being recruited for a given task…In other words, better fitness equals better attention and, thus, better results” (Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey, MD).
Research has also shown that obese children tend to be more depressed than other children who are fit. Physical activities, especially cardiovascular activities can actually make you feel great. The so called “runner’s high” is caused when someone who is engaged a high amount of cardiovascular activity gets a massive dump of dopamine into the brain—a chemical that instills a euphoric state in the person doing the activity, a natural high.
I think most parents would agree that this is one high they would be okay with their kids getting on a regular basis!
5) Kids’ Fitness Sets Them Up for Success in Life
In addition to all of the health benefits that youth gain from exercise, a kids’ fitness program instills positive character traits such as determination, persistence, mental toughness and working hard to accomplish goals. These qualities can be carried over to other challenges in life, such as preparing for a final exam in school or learning a new hobby.
Kids’ fitness matters for many different reasons. Group fitness programs for youth offer an alternative to team sports, which enables them to reap the social and physical benefits of exercise. With the constant rise in childhood obesity, the time to act is now to reverse this trend and ensure the health of our nation. Implementing exercise at a young age will help children to engrain the healthy habits needed to stay fit into their adult years.
The evidence clearly indicates that exercise and academic performance are positively correlated – it’s a no brainer that kids can benefit beyond their physical health by keeping fit. With all this in mind, it’s clear to see how fitness can positively impact childhood development and set them up for ongoing success throughout their entire life.