When we think about physical activity many of us think of all the physical benefits. For example, it helps with weight management and reduces our risk of injury and disease. Being physically active can help build strong bones and muscles. But it also has other benefits.
When we are physically active our body releases chemicals that can have a positive impact on our health. A few of those chemicals are Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. When dopamine is released it can increase our creativity, help with motivation, and even improve our long-term memory. Oxytocin helps develop trust and is important for healthy attachment. It also helps us maintain optimism and promotes prosocial behaviors. Serotonin acts as a mood booster and helps regulate our sleep/wake cycles. It also is heavily involved in emotional regulation, which has an impact on decision-making.
Finally, being physically active releases endorphins – our body’s natural pain relievers. They also boost pleasure, which can result in a sense of wellbeing and help us manage stress. With everything going on in the world today, I think it’s safe to say that we could all use a little help with that.
How much physical activity do we need? According to the American Association of Pediatrics, infants need at least 30 minutes of “tummy time” as well as other interactive play throughout each day. Children ages 3 to 5 need at least three hours of physical activity throughout each day and children 6 years and older need an hour minimum of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity.
One question I ask all my students at the beginning of the school year is, “What are some ways we can be physically active?” The most common responses I get are running, push-ups, and sit-ups. Although those aren’t bad ideas, I want children to start to look at physical activity as more than just rigorous exercise. Physical activity should be enjoyable. Many children may enjoy strenuous exercise, but not all do. Try some of these simple ways to get kids up and moving:
Riding bikes, scooters, skateboards and roller skating
Walking: Going on walks is a great way to be active and a good opportunity to spend quality time as a family.
Rock painting: Take painted rocks along on your walk; they can be fun to hide and fun for others to find.
Scavenger hunt: Simply make a list of things to find around town and head out the door. To make it more challenging you can set a timer. Or make it a competition by splitting into two groups to see who can find all the items first.
Gardening: It’s never too early to get kids involved in gardening.
Dancing: All you need is some music. I haven’t met a toddler yet that doesn’t like to dance.
Animal movements: My students love this activity. They take turns choosing an animal and then we move around the gym like that animal … of course making the best animal sounds, too.
Chores: These may not be a lot of fun, but sweeping, mopping, vacuuming and moving laundry around are good ways for kids to move.
Tag: Head outside for a game of tag. If there’s a tennis court nearby try line tag, where everyone must stay on a line at all times. It can be exhausting.
Unstructured playtime can stimulate creativity.
Yoga has many benefits. It builds muscle strength and strong joints, flexibility, increased blood flow, helps with focus, improves balance and it can be great for relaxation.
Over the years, I have had students complete daily physical activity logs. It’s not uncommon to see kids spending 3 to 4 hours a day sitting in front of a screen during the week (especially now with remote education) and 6 to 8 hours a day on the weekends. This can lead to a decrease in physical activity and an increase in depression and anxiety among young children. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regular physical activity.
Here are a few useful links – the first three have videos to get you and your kids up and moving. The last link will take you to the American Heart Association’s website, with information and other tips on how to stay active.
Adam Lemmon is a P.E. teacher with the Stanfield School District, a partner of the Blue Mountain Early Learning Hub which works to bridge early childhood resources and prepare children for kindergarten. For more information visit www.bluemountainearlylearninghub.org.