The Importance of Exercise

Exercise is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and leads to good physical health.  There is no single best activity but keeping your exercise routine fresh, exciting and social improves your chance to continue exercising.  Everyone should exercise from infancy through adulthood.

Exercise must always be done in a safe environment. Make sure you drink enough water and always warm up before you begin moderate to strenuous activities. Appropriate flexibility and strength must be present before many activities should be pursued. This includes core strength and an adequate base of muscle, bone, heart and lung strength. Lastly, equipment, pace and duration must always be considered.

The benefits to exercise are both physical and psychological. Physical benefits include improved lean body mass, improved heart and lung function and strong bones and muscles.  Psychological benefits include improved sleep and learning, enhanced self-esteem and a healthier general sense of well-being.  Exercise decreases stress and aides in the restoration of balance to our daily lives.

Exercise is a learned behavior and must be linked to a nutritious diet and adequate sleep and recovery. It must be started at an early age and become part of your daily activities. It must be inexpensive and readily available. It is best to include 60 minutes of a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise in your daily routine.

In recent years physical inactivity has become our standard. This has many causes including our use of automobiles rather than walking or biking, the deep penetration of labor-saving devices into our daily lives and the prevalence of electronic games and other devices that distract and support “sitting” behaviors. Even school schedules have changed with many physical education classes now being cancelled. In many urban areas children are afraid or not allowed to play outside due to safety concerns.

Children under age two years should not watch TV and children from age two to six years should watch less than two hours a day. Older children should keep screen and electronic device time under two to four hours a day. Most teens in the US spend more time with electronic devices than they do sleeping.

For infants the focus should be on developmentally appropriate motor skills. These types of exercise should be lively, consistent and spontaneous. Exercise that is imbedded within tummy time, diaper changing and dressing is best.  Peek-a-Boo , So-Big and Patty Cake are great choices.  Be cautious about the amount of time your infant spends in swings, bouncy chairs and car seats.

For the toddler to pre-school aged child the joy of movement is the focus. Children during these ages need to gain a sense of physical control over their bodies. They become stronger and leaner. They learn about spatial relationships in terms of hand-eye and foot-eye coordination.  They learn how to manipulate more than one object at a time and they develop a sense of stability and rhythm.  Walking, hopping, galloping, skipping, marching, running and obstacle courses are all perfect activities for this age.

As a child enters the school age years between five and ten years there is a transition to activities that have flexible rules and basic instructions.  Teamwork and the integration of motor and cognitive skills become increasingly important.

During the teen years personal interests and socialization opportunities are the focus. Team activities increase and vigorous exercise is common. Some risk-taking behaviors become incorporated into exercise and competition becomes more important. Throughout this period it is important to support in your child the importance of effort rather than outcome.

For more information check out my discussion on WJET.