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Why is exercise important for kids?

two girls dancing

Active kids tend to be happy, healthy kids. Whether it’s sports or school activities, games or play, it’s important for children to stay physically active. Exercise can help with everything from improving concentration to getting a better night’s sleep. There are also lots of social benefits of exercise for children, especially when taking part in team sports.

Read on to find out more about why exercise is so important for children, and how to encourage yours to be a little more active.

Why is exercise important for children's growth and development?

There’s a huge amount of research and evidence showing the benefits of exercise - for all of us, not just children.

For young people, keeping moving isn’t just about getting fit. It also has lots of other benefits, both for physical health, mental wellbeing and social development. Let’s take a look at some of the many reasons why regular exercise is a great thing for kids:

  • Boosts fitness and heart health
  • Improves balance and posture
  • Helps to build stronger bones
  • Helps with muscle development
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Increases concentration, which could help to boost academic performance
  • Provides opportunities to socialise with other kids
  • Teaches team working and leadership skills
  • Lowers stress levels
  • Helps kids to get a better night’s sleep.

So, as you can see, there are loads of reasons kids should keep active.

Can children have too much exercise?

While plenty of regular exercise can be a great thing for kids, it’s important not to overdo it. Generally speaking, it’s fine to go over the recommended amount of exercise every now and again. For example, if your child is playing out all day, on a long bike ride or if they are absorbed in an over-running sports game. Just as long as they’re not doing that every day or pushing themselves too hard, and they get plenty of rest, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

But regularly doing too much exercise can lead to burnout, injuries or illness. This can happen to children who participate in intensely competitive sports or athletic programmes. They can become overly focused or even obsessed with their performance, which leads to overtraining. It can also cause physical and emotional stress.

To avoid such an unhealthy situation, parents need to be on the lookout for the signs of children overdoing it. For example:

  • Physical or emotional exhaustion
  • Injuries linked to overuse, such as tendonitis or stress fractures
  • Suddenly losing interest in an activity they used to enjoy - this could be a sign of burnout
  • A poor immune system, with coughs and colds that appear frequently and take a long time to go away
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Slow recovery from workouts.

It’s also important to tailor the activity and amount of exercise to your child’s age. According to the NHS, children and teens aged 5 to 18 years should aim to take part in vigorous physical activities for at least 60 minutes a day. Children under 5 should ideally be active for at least 180 minutes spread throughout the day, but in this case ‘active’ simply means any kind of movement.

Do children copy adults' exercise habits?

If you’d like to encourage a healthy attitude towards exercise in your children, why not lead by example? Active children are more likely to become more healthy adults, and they pick up on their habits from you.

A great way to kick this off is by being more active as a family. You can plan fun outdoor activities for the whole family, such as following a nature trail in the woods to visiting the local swimming baths.

You can also build active habits into the daily routine. For example, walking or cycling to school or the shops rather than driving.

How can we get children to enjoy exercise more?

If your kids are more interested in their tablet screens than playing outside, you’re not alone. Lots of parents have this issue, but there are some things you can do to encourage your kids to exercise a little more. The key is enjoyment. No child wants to, nor should be, forced to do things they don’t enjoy.

So, encouraging exercise habits is all about making it fun, and finding out what your child is interested in. Here are some ideas:

  • Try out lots of different sports and activities together, to find out what your child enjoys - the more they enjoy it, the more they’ll want to do it. They’ll also enjoy the feeling of getting good at something, so encourage them to practise their skills and praise their achievements.
  • Make it easy to be active, by providing equipment such as bikes, roller skates, sports kit or toys. You can take them to playgrounds and other active spots too.
  • Make family activities fun, such as going to the zoo and doing lots of walking, or turning on music and having a dance party at home.
  • Keep it social. Invite your child’s friends to join in the activity, which helps keep everyone engaged - and provides more opportunities for group games and sports.