Most adults adhere to some sort of workout plan as a way to manage weight and boost longevity. There’s even reason to believe staying fit will make you a better parent. Before you pat yourself on the back, take a look at your children’s habits. If your kids are toiling away on the couch playing video games while you hit the gym, you’re doing them a major disservice because getting them interested in physical activity now sets the foundation for the rest of their lives.
The most obvious reasons to stay physically active are also some of the most compelling. Regular exercise has been linked to a healthier weight, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of diabetes, and even a smaller chance of getting cancer. One common denominator among the world’s healthiest cultures is they lead extremely active lives compared to our tendency to remain sedentary. Since many of the ailments afflicting adults are on the rise among youngsters, they stand to gain just as much as those who are decades older.
Getting more movement isn’t just about the physical benefits, though. Being active can do wonders for young, growing minds, particularly when it comes to building confidence. Courtney Levinsohn, a sport psychology expert and founder of Growth Through Sport, explained it all comes from learning and developing skills. “You build that trust in yourself, that self-belief and that becomes the foundation of what we call self-confidence or self esteem,” she said.
What’s particularly interesting is, at least for kids, this confidence doesn’t depend on winning. It’s actually quite the opposite. Levinsohn explained, “when they’re in a setting that’s nonjudgmental and focused on learning, not winning, they’re more willing to take risks.” As children take on new challenges in an environment that doesn’t pressure them to be perfect, their self-confidence will continue to snowball from there.
Getting involved in sports or other types of movement can even translate to better results in the classroom. One recent study found children who received additional breaks for physical activity saw an improvement in math and reading abilities. But you shouldn’t expect it to happen on its own. “It’s really immportant for the coaches and teachers to help kids pull those mental skills from the field into the classroom, parents too,” Levinsohn said. “Without that bridge, they can’t make the connection themselves all the time.”
It’s also a good idea to keep the future in mind, and we’re talking about quite a ways down the road. One recent study conducted at the University of Missouri revealed men who engaged in high-impact activity during adolescence and throughout adulthood experienced greater bone mineral density later in life. According to Pamela Hinton, the researcher who conducted the study and an associate professor at the school, it doesn’t even need to be a huge amount of exercise. “After as few as 40 to 100 impacts, bone loses its responsiveness to the loading and needs to recover,” she said. Her team has also found similar benefits from weight lifting, which is good news for those who have joint troubles.
Though most of us think of running or other regimented workouts when it comes to high-impact exercise, there are a lot of other activities that fall under the same category. “Any activity that involves running or jumping would be considered a high-impact activity, so other examples would be basketball, volleyball, and plyometrics,” Hinton said. This means young men can reap the bone-boosting rewards simply by playing their favorite sport.
When it comes to young children, you don’t need to worry too much about structured exercise. It’s more about finding ways for your kids to move that they enjoy. “In the early years, they’re connecting movement with fun and that becomes a really important lifelong connection to being active,” Levinsohn explained. Hinton shared a similar suggestion, saying “I would recommend taking your child to the playground rather than a structured exercise program.”
It’s also important to keep in mind every child has a different idea of what type of movement is most enjoyable. For Levinsohn’s 3-year-old son, it’s become dance after he became acquainted with The Nutcracker during the holidays. “It drew on his imagination and the movement followed,” she said.
The idea is to be open-minded and try out different activities because every kid is different. It may even involve having some conversations about why a particular activity didn’t seem to click. As long as fun is the focus, the rest will take care of itself.