Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Exercise - Keeping Active

Everyone agrees on the importance of physical activity for children, but translating theory into practice can be a problem. Parents and caregivers can play an important role in encouraging a variety of activities that will get kids moving.

Young children explore the world through their whole body. It is natural for them to want to run and jump, climb and balance. Apart from the obvious health benefits of stronger muscles and denser bones, this kind of activity also improves coordination, making it less likely that children will fall and injure themselves. The long-term benefits of an active lifestyle include fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Being in good physical shape influences mental performance. Studies show that children who are physically active tend to concentrate better and have enhanced creativity and problem solving skills.

Emotional well-being is also affected. Vigorous exercise helps get rid of tensions resulting from stress or anger, and an improved body image increases self-esteem. When you make activity a family affair, having fun together increases the bonds between family members.

Certain elements of modern family life create barriers to getting enough exercise. In many circumstances, parents are afraid to let their children just "go out to play" without close supervision. Children in apartment buildings need someone to take them to the park, which may not be near by.

Not all child care settings have indoor spaces large enough for running and jumping. For older children, schools under heavy curriculum demands have often reduced the time and resources allocated to quality physical education.

Meanwhile, adults and children both spend more time driving or being driven places instead of walking. In addition, sitting in front of the television, video games and computer games takes up more and more of children's free time. Not only are they not building muscles (other than in their fingers), but they also are frequently snacking on fatty foods while they're sitting there. Obesity in children and youth has increased 50 per cent in the last 15 years.

Lack of space, equipment, time, money, good weather ("it's too hot/too cold out!") — it takes energy to get past these excuses, energy that physical activity will itself contribute to building.

Encouraging activity