With another Olympics having come and gone, it’s the perfect time to capitalize on your children’s new found interest in going for the gold. Before your kids set their sights on becoming the next Michael Phelps or Gabby Douglas, though, it’s important to instill in them an appreciation of some of the lesser known benefits of regular exercise. Doing so will lead to long-term health habits that will last well beyond their dreams of the medal podium. Here’s a list of the top ten reasons you and your family should exercise.
1 IMPROVED BALANCE, COORDINATION AND SPATIAL AWARENESS
Many pre-teens, teens and their parents are looking to athletic performance to open up doors to colleges. Kids feel both their own desire and parental pressure to excel in a particular sport to improve their odds for admission to select colleges, and/or to lessen the financial burden of the ever-growing college tuitions. Pre-teens and teens who begin exercising at a young age hone their balance coordination and spatial awareness during sensitive developmental periods. This makes them better equipped to excel in the high school years when their strength, speed, height and body mass change significantly.
2 OVERALL IMPROVEMENT IN ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Everyone — including kids — can benefit from improved efficiency and stamina. If your child is seeking a way to improve upon athletic performance, regular exercise is hard to beat. There are a host of exercises that can be performed at home to improve a child’s ability in any number of sports. Th ese exercises cost little in terms of time and equipment, and the gain can be exponential. Th e results range from better movement efficiency to improved strength, speed and power.
3 WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
The weight equation is relatively simple: calories in versus calories out. If you’re looking to maintain your weight, the two should be equal. If, on the other hand, you want to lose weight, your caloric intake must be less than your caloric expenditure. You can accomplish this by doing one of two things: eating less or exercising more. Most of us enjoy our food and don’t want to cut back, so we need to increase our energy output through exercise. Try setting aside at least 30 minutes per day for increased physical activity. Combine that with less eating and snacking on the run — a by-product of our increasingly hectic schedules — and before long you should see the scale moving in the right direction.
4 DISEASE PREVENTION
Exercising can help reduce your child’s chances of a future with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, respiratory problems and some cancers. Th ese are just some of the longterm health consequences that result from being obese or overweight. Th e American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five days a week for adults, and 60 minutes of daily exercise for kids. Exercising regularly helps prevent heart disease by increasing “good” cholesterol levels. Simply walking will help preserve bone mass and prevent broken bones after falls.
5 TIME BETTER SPENT
With rushing to do many things today, people are finding less quality time to either spend with family members, or to be alone. The time kids find to engage in video games, computers, texting or tweeting could be better spent participating in physical activities. Simple games like tag, climbing trees or even taking a simple walk with a parent or sibling can open the doors of communication and offer an opportunity for family bonding. The key is to think of fitness as being less structured, and more as just a regular part of each day.
6 INJURY PREVENTION
Th e last thing any athlete or parent wants to hear is that a child broke a bone or needs to be taken out of a sport for a predetermined period of time. In some cases, the removal from the sport could be permanent. With increasing awareness on the frequency of concussions and their long-term results, permanent removal is likely to become more common. Many of the injuries today’s athletes face result from early specialization and improper form. Performing the right warm-up exercises and the appropriate training exercise will both improve performance and minimize the risk of injury. With early specialization in a single sport, overuse injuries are becoming increasingly common. A diverse exercise regimen — along with delayed single sport focus — will also help to decrease the odds of an overuse injury.
7 IMPROVED POSTURE
Exercise helps the body in many ways. Assisting with weight management is the most obvious — but not the only — benefit. Improved posture is an indirect benefit of regular exercise. The benefits of a more erect posture include backpain relief, muscle tension reduction, improved digestion function and more effi cient breathing — all accomplished with relatively little effort.
8 ENHANCED CONFIDENCE AND SELF-ESTEEM
The benefits of exercise include improved confidence and self-esteem. Among the direct benefits are improved muscle tone, increased stamina and an increase in the body’s endorphin levels. The indirect benefits of the same exercises lead to a more positive self-perception. It is a well known fact that when we look good, we feel better. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to try new things and tackle new projects. This new found sense of accomplishment makes us feel even better about ourselves, and exercise becomes the gift that just keeps on giving.
9 STRESS REDUCTION AND IMPROVED MENTAL HEALTH
Another indirect benefit of exercise is the positive eff ect on depression and anxiety. This result is multifactorial, and can be attributed to the elevation in endorphins, improved blood flow, elevated self-esteem, newfound self-confidence, feeling better about how one may be perceived by others, and better health status.
10 LIFESTYLE CHANGE
The best benefit from exercise is the establishment of a good, lifelong habit. Many of today’s overweight adults were not overweight kids. They participated in organized sports as children, but weight gain became an issue because they did not continue their participation as adults. Responsibilities increase as we age. The time for “work” versus “play” or the fear of an injury from participating in the very activity an adult may have loved as a child can weigh heavy on the mind. Nevertheless, a routine exercise habit that begins in youth can and should continue throughout the lifespan. Remember that the sooner you and your family gain an appreciation of both the direct and indirect benefits of regular exercise, the sooner you will be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
Susan Katz, DNP, RN, PNP, works at the Apnea Program at Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital. She is also coordinator of Safe Kids Suffolk and a faculty member at Western Suffolk BOCES.