by Jamie Hoover, YMCA Healthy Living Director
It is summertime in Wisconsin again! School is out and the weather that we dream about throughout the depths of winter is finally upon us. As a health and fitness professional as well as a lifelong Wisconsin resident, I am telling you now, create an environment for the kids to get outside and get active!
Kids ages six and older should be active for 60 minutes or more each day. Current trends show that kids ages eight to eighteen get an average of seven hours of screen time each day, which includes television, computer, smartphone, and video game usage.
The benefits of activity and exercise for children are vast and far reaching. A healthy diet, physical activity, and active play are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle for children as their bodies and brains are rapidly developing. Conversely, children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be obese as adults, which can raise the risk for health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and cancer just to name a few.1,2
An often overlooked benefit of physical activity for children is the impact it has on their mental health. Physical activity has been shown to stimulate brain growth and boost cognitive performance. Studies indicate that fit children tend to have greater brain volume in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory,3 and that more active children have faster reaction times and accuracy,4 as well as showing more extensive information processing during tasks.5 In other words, results suggest that aerobic exercise can enhance focus and improve cognitive flexibility. Physical activity has also been correlated with both short- and long-term benefits in the classroom. A study, with replicated results, linked aerobic activity with improved math skills and increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with executive function.6
There are also many physical benefits aside from risk prevention, and perhaps some much needed personal time for caretakers and chaperones. Examples of physical benefits include:
- Maintains blood sugar levels
- Lowers blood pressure
- Helps grow strong muscles and bones
- Improves sleep
- Can boost self-esteem
- Can help relieve stress
- Enhances athletic performance
What does all of this mean? It means that physical activity is a must, and not only for children, but for adults as well. A key component to being active and staying active is to individualize it to each and every person and child. Being active doesn’t need to be a complex or expensive endeavor. Eau Claire has been named a top “Small Town to Live” by numerous publications and was also ranked number 4 in a poll of the 16 best places to live in the United States by Outside Magazine for many active reasons, including our running and biking trails, our beautiful terrain of woods and water, and our many great parks! The Y also offers many great options such as youth sports leagues, Athletic Enhancement Camp, and the Kids of Steel Triathlon!
Whatever your physical activity preference is, make the most of your summer by getting out, getting active, and enjoying our city!
1. Freedman, D. S., et al. “The relation of childhood BMI to adult adiposity: The Bogalusa Heart Study.” Pediatrics, 115(1): 22–27, 2005.
2. The Writing Group for the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study, et al. “Incidence of diabetes in youth in the United States.” JAMA, 297(24):2716–2724, 2007.
3. Chaddock-Heyman, L., Hillman, C. H., Cohen, N. J., and Kramer, A. F. “The importance of physical activity and aerobic fitness for cognitive control and memory in children.” Monogr Soc Res Child Cev, 79(4): 25–50, 2014.
4. Hillman, C. H ., Pontifex, M. B., Raine, L. B., Castelli, D. M., Hall, E. E., and Kramer, A. F. “The effect of acute treadmill walking on cognitive control and academic achievement in preadolescent children.” Neuroscience, 159(3): 1044–54, 2009.
5. Hillman, C. H., Castelli, D. M., and Buck, S. M. “Aerobic fitness and neurocognitive function in healthy preadolescent children.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 27(11): 1967–1974, 2005.
6. Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., Allison, J. D., and Naglieri, J. A. “Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial.” Health Psychology, 30(1): 91–8, 2011.