Getting exercise a smart idea

October 1, 2014 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

A new study says exercise doesn’t just benefit kids’ physical health – it gives their brains a boost too.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that 70 minutes of play per day can improve children’s thinking, particularly in multitasking. The study included 222 children ages 7-9, of which 109 met after school for a snack and brief lesson on fitness and nutrition. The children then spent about 70 minutes running around and playing soccer and tag, “normal” kid activities, as opposed to competitive games. The remaining students did not participate in a fitness program.

The participants completed a series of tests that measured aerobic fitness and cognitive functions at the beginning and end of the nine months. At the end of the study, the physical fitness of the study group had improved 6 percent, compared to 1 percent improvement in the control group. The students in the study group also had a 10 percent increase in accuracy on a series of cognitive tests, compared to 5 percent for the control group.

The study was published in this week’s Pediatrics magazine.

Encouraging kids to be physically active is increasingly important for schools where physical education is being cut back or recess time is trimmed and even eliminated. Get kids involved in ways that will encourage them to keep coming back for more.

Not just a field of dreams.

Organized sports are not for everyone, and pushing children to pursue a sport that doesn’t interest them can backfire. Encourage your child to find something he/she enjoys. He may not want to play on the youth football team, but tossing a football in the yard with you can be a fun way to get some exercise. Consider riding a bike, scootering around the neighborhood or skipping jump rope around the perimeter of the house. It all adds up!

Get your move on.

You don’t need an organized sport to get active. Go for a walk, dance around the living room or set up your own obstacle course on a walk: Run around the mailbox, jump over lines in the sidewalk, hop along a patch of grass and do 10 jumping jacks at each driveway you pass. Get creative and make fitness fun.

Model behavior.

If your children see you being active, they’re more like to get moving as well. Share your enthusiasm for fitness and healthy eating and your children will catch on. has lots of ideas to get you started.

Limit electronic engagement.

Electronic devices and video games can be engaging for children, but it’s important that they spend time in physical activity as well. Limit their time slouching on the couch. Also consider incorporating electronics in your fitness plan. Choose an exercise video game or an app for your smartphone that tracks steps.

Make it a family affair.

Give children some say in the activities you choose. When kids are involved in the decision-making process, they’re more engaged in the activity. Whether it’s going for a hike as a family, playing soccer in the yard or a taking a trip to the playground, there are plenty of ways to stay active and spend time as a family.

Kids are “wired” to move, and that means more than their thumbs on an electronic device. Encouraging children to develop a fitness habit is a smart move that can pay lifelong dividends.


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