In order for children to grow up strong and healthy, physical activity needs to form part of their daily routines.

Not only is exercise crucial for the physical and mental development of your child, it also instils a healthy outlook on physical activity from a young age which can be carried through into later stages of life.

Benefits of Physical Activity for Youth

Although South Africa has been in lockdown for almost three months, with varying levels of restrictions even on physical activity, it’s important that parents continue to include physical activity as part of their children’s routine.

At the start of level three, it was announced that physical exercise was once again permitted, as long as social distancing is still practiced and face masks are worn at all times.

This makes it easier to ensure your children get all the physical exercise they need as they grow and develop into young teens and adults.

Parent should also help their children find a healthy balance between physical activity and rest; children should not spend all their free time exercising without any down time and vice versa.

benefits of exercise for children

Physical Benefits of Exercise

Regular exercise can do the following for your child:

  • It helps develop movement skills such as hand-eye coordination and balance
  • It helps maintain a healthy body mass index (body weight versus height)
  • Helps build healthy bones
  • Helps strengthen the cardiovascular system (heart, veins and arteries)
  • Improves energy levels
  • Enhances flexibility and mobility

Academic Benefits of Physical Activity

Physical activity can help develop a healthy brain and improves cognitive function in the following ways:

  • The flow of oxygen to the brain is increased during physical activity
  • Exercise improves alertness, attention and motivation
  • Prepares the brain to understand and retain new information
  • Memory and concentration are improved
  • Improves classroom behaviour as energy is exerted elsewhere

Benefits of Exercise for Children’s Respiratory System

Regular exercise can strengthen your child’s lungs as it works harder to supply the additional oxygen that muscles require during physical activity.

Just as muscles grow stronger when we exercise, the same applies to the lungs and the fitter your child is, the more efficient his or her body will be in getting oxygen into the bloodstream and to the rest of the body.

Strong, healthy lungs are crucial for the overall health of the body, its organs and tissues.

Emotional Benefits of Physical Activity

The following are benefits for emotional and mental health:

  • Reduced anxiety – anxious children tend to focus on things that induce their anxiety. Exercise can reduce their anxiety levels as well mitigate their tendency to focus on things that make them anxious
  • Improved self-image – exercise can help children improve their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth as it reinforces their abilities
  • Improves mood – children can become agitated when they are stagnant and are not always sure how to express their frustration. Regular physical activity not only releases endorphins (hormones that elevate the mood) but also gets rid of boredom and frustration
  • Builds relationships – when children take part in group sports and activities, they feel a sense of belonging among their peers. In addition, exercise is a great way for parents and children to bond while doing something fun and all-round beneficial for their health

Types of Physical Activity for Children

There are various types of physical activity that children can engage in which include:

  • Free play – when children have the freedom do play how they want to, with no rules, guidance or direction from their supervisor
  • Games – hide and seek, tag, jumping, animal walks etc
  • Sports – soccer, tennis, athletics etc
  • Transportation – walking, mild jogging or cycling

There are also different intensities that should be considered according to your child’s age, skills, capabilities and physical limitations:

  • Vigorous intensity – activities that make your children sweat and feel slightly out of breath so that they are able to say only a few words between breaths
  • Moderate intensity – activities that can also cause your children to sweat but breathing is easier and they are still able to speak while moving their bodies

They type of exercise and intensity that you choose for your child will be determined by their age, their developmental stage and physical capabilities.

Kay-Dee Educare Centre in Mowbray, Cape Town

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to physical activity for children.

However, it’s important that children of all ages and capabilities have appropriate physical activity as part of their daily routine. Please remember to maintain social distancing as per regulations and always wear a face mask.

Parents should also limit screen time during the day as well as right before bedtimes. A healthy balance between exercise, play, rest and academics will ensure a well-rounded child with a healthy body and mind.

If you would like more information about the importance of physical activity for your child’s health and well-being or to learn more about our extra-mural programmes, please feel free to contact us.