Importance Of Exercise For Your Child To Stay Fit And Healthy

The benefits of physical activities are aplenty. So, try and make it a part of your child's daily routine. Hear what Dr Kannan Pugazhendhi has to say on how important it is for your child's health.

By Gemmarie Venkataramani

Importance Of Exercise For Your Child To Stay Fit And Healthy
Exercise plays an important role in a child's overall physical and mental development

To channelise children’s energies in a positive manner, we need to guide them through sports and fitness, and the discipline that goes along with it. In a candid chat, Dr Kannan Pugazhendhi, Sports Medicine Physician, stresses on the importance of exercise in a child's formative years and how parents should encourage and initiate fitness activities into their child's daily routine. Excerpts:

Why should parents encourage sports in children?

By the year 2020, India will be set to gain the distinction of becoming the heart disease capital of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that among people under the age of 30 worldwide, suffering from cardiovascular disease, sixty per cent will be Indians.

Our children could be among those Indians. We need to help them understand that sitting in front of the television or watching videos on the smartphone, and munching on chips and drinking soda is not the ideal way to spend leisure time.

Children who play sports are stronger and more independent. They find it easy to work in a team and they learn how to manage their time. Though not all children want to play sports, parents should encourage them to participate in some kind of physical activities such as exercises, aerobics, dance or fun fitness games.

How do sports and exercises help the cause of education?

There is a link and it is a vital one. Only if the child is physically fit can he study well. Children need physical activity to keep their bodies in shape.

I agree that giving children intellectual nourishment is a primary responsibility for parents. But many parents do not pay enough attention to the physical well-being of their child through exercise and sports.

Often, children are not allowed to play because they must study. They are not given any household chores because they have homework to complete. Parents are often reluctant to let the children walk to school since it might tire them and make them lose their ability to concentrate in class. Fast foods and junk foods are often offered as bribes to children to entice them to study harder. This approach from parents must change.

Can you recommend age-wise fitness activities for children?

Ages 2-5

  • Start off when they are young. Flexibility and coordination are developed as soon as the child starts playing with a ball. 
  • Rolling, throwing and catching a ball will improve your child’s motor skills. 
  • Children should not be introduced to any sport at this age as their sense of balance, strength and coordination are not yet fully developed. 
  • Allow them to play and discover their physical abilities and capabilities. This will encourage them to take up a structured physical activity when they are older.

Ages 6-9

  • The jungle gym days! Climbing ladders, hanging from monkey bars, moving back and forth in the swing, descending from the slide and going through the hurdles – all these help develop the child’s motor senses. 
  • The child's agility and endurance are tested during this phase. They get the ‘hang’ of the games and begin to formulate strategies which would be useful for them later. 
  • A game of tag or playing frisbee with the family is also a good way to help develop strength in their muscles. 
  • Walking and running can be introduced at this age but not of the competitive kind. Three kilometres is the safest distance a child can run at this stage.

Ages 10-13

  • Offer an array of choices. Children are exposed to various sporting activities and are eager to try out each one of them. Encourage your child to explore different sports; they offer a variety of health benefits
  • Concentrating on one sport at this stage, limits the development of the child's movement and creativity. 
  • Most sports are 90 per cent mental and 10 per cent physical. The mind does most of the work and instructs the body on how it should move. 
  • Physical activity offers a workout that speeds up metabolism and promotes strength, endurance, speed, agility, flexibility, coordination and balance.
  • Try out different sports, as only then will children discover what suits them best.

Ages 14-17

  • Focus! This is the stage when the child is ready to choose the one sport of his calling. 
  • He should learn everything about the sport. 
  • He may choose to become competitive and excel. 
  • Just because the parents like a sport, they should not force their child to take it up. 
  • At this stage, the child needs parental support the most.

Few tips to keep your child healthy

  • Work with your child: Practise what you preach; be interested in fitness yourself. Work out regularly or take up some sporting activity. Eat healthy foods and avoid processed ones. Your child will not take to sports if he sees you as a couch potato, forever munching on unhealthy snacks.
  • Commit yourself: Once the child has chosen a sport, commit to taking the child to practice sessions and games on time. Take care of her sporting needs by providing her the proper uniform and equipment.
  • Provide proper nourishment: Ensure that your child is getting proper nutrition to meet the physical demands of the sport. Make sure he drinks enough fluids during practice sessions and matches. Further, he should get sufficient rest and sleep to take on the added physical stress. If you support your child's efforts he will be able to concentrate on his sport more and enjoy the experience.
  • Understand the game together: Attend some practice sessions. Get to know the coach if there is one. Ensure that the child understands the rules of the sport as well as specific team rules. This will make you aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your child and you will also be able to support him accordingly. Your child too will appreciate your support, and feel more confident and inclined to do his best.
  • Encourage, do not push: When the child competes, parents must encourage him and his teammates, and not pressurise him to become the best player of the game. Allow him to enjoy playing and set his own goals. Having fun while playing the game is as important as winning it. Allow your child to reach his maximum potential without the compulsion to be the best or achieve the first place.

So, remember that engaging in regular physical activity will only make your child healthier and enable him to do better in studies. Exercise also helps your child fight off various diseases and reach his maximum potential. Extend your full support to your child and watch him grow up to be an independent, healthy and confident individual.

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