Educators' Perspectives

The Essence of Exercising for Children and Young Adults

Tejas D. Venkatesha – Director Sports
Head Start Educational Academy

A great deal of emphasis should be given to exercising from a very young age. Regular physical activity in children is essential to promote health and fitness. This would mean equipping children with knowledge and tools that would essentially make them more aware of their bodies and help them build an active lifestyle.

What does exercising have to offer children? Aren’t they already so active and energetic?

Most of the recent studies on the benefits of exercise have focused on the role of physical activity in enhancing health, as opposed to physical fitness. As children grow into adults, they enjoy the established benefits of being physically active during their childhood, including prevention of major diseases during their adulthood.  Apart from neuro-muscular and physiological benefits, exercising also triggers the release of various hormones that largely benefit growth in children and enhance their moods. Trust me when I say that I have always observed ‘happy faces’ leave the sports ground at school.

It is for a good reason that it’s often been said, ‘If exercise could be packaged in a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed medication in the world’.

Lack of physical activity and poor eating habits in children and adolescents have resulted in an increased risk for developing degenerative diseases in their adult years. Children of all ages have been negatively impacted by an increased sedentary screen-time lifestyle. It is of utmost importance for us as parents and educators to have the right approach in curtailing sedentary lifestyles. I also strongly believe that any behaviour established at a young age, between two and eighteen, has a high probability of persisting into adulthood.

The most commonly asked question I face, is what kind of exercise the child can/has to do. Weights? Endurance? Functional training? CrossFit? etc. What, how and where should my child start? My child is not interested in any sport, how can I help?

Every question has to be answered separately considering different aspects, varying from age group, gender, physical limitations, genetics and interests of each child.  However, I would regard ‘duration’ as an important criterion to being physically active for all children irrespectively. To achieve substantial health benefits, a child should do moderate to vigorous intensity of physical activity, up to 60 minutes or more each day. This should include age appropriate aerobic and strengthening exercises. The right ‘Duration’ along with the ‘Frequency’ of exercise and age appropriate ‘Intensity’ are the three key factors that determine ‘physically active children and young adolescents’.

It is important for children who are not physically active for at least 60 minutes each day to gradually increase the duration of their physical activity. For children who exceed 60 minutes of physical activity each day, it is important to maintain their activity intensity while varying the type of activities, to reduce the risk of overtraining.

It is my experience as an educator that many children do not understand the importance of fitness and exercising; it’s natural for them because they mostly seem to be fit and happy. If I draw a comparison with adults, most would readily agree with the importance of fitness, rather than as a realisation.

The two important elements to keep in mind for a child’s exercise as an educator/parent, are Motivation and Adherence. There is no magic to creating these and the only solution lies in creating a conducive atmosphere for the child at home and school. Motivation and Adherence are personality traits. For some, they could come from within, for others, from the right kind of encouragement, guidance, feedback and support that would give them a worthwhile exercise experience. Think of how many times we as parents actually go and play with our children. How much time do we spend exercising with our children; going for a jog, biking with them, or playing a game of their choice? Our participation would definitely turn things around for them.

The main focus on creating a foundation to a healthy lifestyle lies in foreseeing and working with our children to start exercising and keeping them motivated to exercise regularly, rather than just developing a high level of fitness. Let us all join together to create a better, stronger and healthier future for us and for our children.