In the September issue of Gainesville Today, I wrote about healthy children with an emphasis on diet and sleep. This month I will expand on the topic of health with the focus being exercise and fitness.
Most parents today do not feel that their children will be safe if they play freely, walk to school, or even wait at a bus stop without adult supervision. Children, therefore, have become more sedentary, and as outside activities have decreased, indoor activities have increased. Before children become acclimated to physical inertia, parents need to introduce fitness activities to their children when they are toddlers. Not only does this help children develop good habits that lead to health and fitness, but these developmentally appropriate movement exercises foster overall brain/motor ability and flexibility.
Some of the movement activities that help young children to develop their mind/body connections are the ones to which they are naturally drawn. For example, those that integrate the visual with the sensory motor include catching, kicking and striking. We all know it is really hard to prevent children from naturally finding ways to do these things, and they often get scolded for doing such activities at times we adults feel are inappropriate.
Another group of activities are centered on gross motor development such as jumping, rolling, crawling, skipping and gallop- ing. Children love to pretend to be animals and imitate how a bunny hops or a crab walks. You can almost feel the blood flow- ing to children’s brains as you watch them move their bodies in these ways. Of course, anytime you add music and rhythm to such activities you have a winning combination.
It has been well researched and documented that physical activity is important for reducing obesity, building muscle and strong bones, and preventing many dis- eases such as high blood pressure and depression/anxiety. It is equally important to recognize the roll physical activity and movement play in brain development and the capacity for learning itself.