By: Tanvi Maharaja
It’s that time of the year! When the days are short, festivities and rich food abound, it’s freezing outside, and kids are home for the Christmas holiday! All of that yummy food and lack of stimulating physical exercise can be hard on kids – not just physically (which is an urgent wake-up call, considering the rise in childhood obesity across the world), but also mentally. We all kind of knew that not playing enough and being lazy is not the healthiest of habits, but then science came upon the scene and smacked us with all this evidence.
The reputable Journal of Pediatric Psychology published a meta-analysis of 246 studies to arrive at the conclusion that physical activity and exercise had a positive influence on children’s mental health. The authors concluded that physical activity decreased anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and emotional disturbance. It enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence. These effects could translate into better coping mechanisms to life stressors in adulthood, leading to resilient, successful men and women of the future.
And to seal the deal, the British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted another systemic review which established the relationship between sedentary behavior and poorer mental health outcomes, again underscoring the need for regular physical activity for children. Hundreds of studies over the past few decades have underlined the need for regular physical activity for all, including kids.
Exercise seems to be the best prescription for kids, providing physical, mental, emotional, and social nourishment. So, what’s the right dose of exercise? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all kids get about 60 minutes of exercise every day, involving moderate intensity cardiovascular workout. Strength training, involving bones and muscles, is included in this 60-minute workout. Strength training has been recommended at least 3 times a week. Exercising need not involve any hi-tech or expensive equipment. Simple, at-home exercising can be just as effective, and probably more fun!
Aerobic or cardiovascular activities that can be easily done at home include jumping jacks, running up and down the stairs, dancing to kids’ favorite music, or jumping rope. A spontaneous dance party, anyone? How about squeezing in some step aerobics, or some simple stretching? Hula hoops, skipping rope, hopscotch…creativity is key in getting kids hyped up about exercise, and parental participation goes a long way. Kids see parents as role models and usually are keen to join in the fun.
Strength training can include things like squatting, musical chairs, playing twister, push-ups, or lunges during TV commercial breaks. Like with most things, kids will play along if it sounds fun to them, rather than a to-do list that they have to follow. Parents can fit little exercises in their schedule, giving them a much-needed energy boost, while also getting an opportunity to bond with kids making this special time more special! And if you are sneaky enough, you can get kids to help you with small chores and plant seeds of self-efficacy and responsibility.
Of course you could get yourself a balance ball or a wobble board and take the game up a notch! Not only does this strengthen the core, but is an amazing tool to hone proprioceptive skills, improve balance, and make things a little more interesting! Wifi games on modern day play consoles such as golfing, volleyball, archery, table tennis, soccer, also provide challenging physical workouts using motion game controller in the comfort and confines of our homes.
While playing with parents is usually very rewarding for both parties involved, kids do appreciate some kind of reward for their work. There are plenty of resources on the internet to help kids find their mojo, and basically, remain active. I have shared some resources below that are not only authentic and reliable but also provide a lot of fun ideas and information.
Teaching kids to become and remain active is an investment for the future. Physical activity is one of the most underutilized and undervalued commodities. It is the medicine for so many ailments, the elixir for a healthy life. Recognizing the importance of fitness at a young age inculcates healthy habits that kids carry into adulthood. It is one of the most precious gifts we can leave behind for our children.
Please share with us your ideas about what you do to get your kids to move and play.
Biddle SJH, Asare M. Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: a review of reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2011; 45:886-895.
Soyeon A., Fedewa A.L. A meta-analysis of the relationship between children’s physical activity and mental health. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 2011; 36, 4:385-397. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsq107