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Childhood Wellness

Physical Activity is a Magic Pill for Physical and Mental Health

Photo: Courtesy of frank mckenna on Unsplash

Charlene Burgeson

Executive Director of Active Schools

There are so many things we want for our kids that require access, money, or teaching them what not to do. Why, then, do we so often overlook or underprioritize a positive, easily accessible, no-cost, joyful option that is full of physical, mental, and social health benefits: physical activity?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Additionally, students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors (e.g., on-task behavior), as researched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The magic pill

Being physically active is a win-win. It has both immediate and long-term benefits. It is also a win for both kids and the adults who care for them. Unfortunately, according to the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative in 2016, only 24 percent of kids ages 6-17 participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day. And while we don’t know what the statistic is during this time of COVID-19, it is likely that without structured physical activity and sports through school and community programs, many kids are even more inactive. This is an injustice to our kids who need and deserve every benefit that physical activity provides.

Parents of school-age children are stretched thin as parents, employees, and these days, as part-time teachers as well. But here are two pieces of great news: (1) physical activity is good for both kids and adults; and, (2) there are hundreds of free, high-quality resources available to keep kids and families active at home from the national Active Schools movement at www.activeschoolsus.org/news-and-resources/active-at-home.

For kids to participate in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day, they need movement opportunities at school and at home. Scientific research supports that physical activity behaviors of children and parents are highly intertwined. Having parents as partners in their child’s physical education can not only positively influence their child’s behaviors at home, but also inspire parents to become advocates for school-based physical education and physical activity programs.

During this global pandemic, when children are being educated through a hybrid school-home approach, parents need help to support their student’s physical education and encourage physical activity for their child and family throughout the day. Increasing school-family partnering is invaluable not only during COVID-19, but as a long-term strategy.

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