August 23, 2021 12:42:16 pm
By Dr Himani Narula
Physical inactivity is now considered as the leading cause of global mortality. In children, it can lead to increased incidence of obesity and other lifestyle disorders. There is an alarming increase in obesity in children being observed in the last decade, which is secondary to either the lack of physical activity or overeating. Physical activities in early childhood are critically important in helping reduce the increased health risks associated with obesity and overweight.
Physical activity and sports have immediate and habitual health benefits. The acute impact of a moderate to vigorous physical activity is to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, enhance cognitive alertness and function. Regular physical activity can have a habitual impact on anxiety, deep sleep, executive functions like ability to plan, organise, inhibit or facilitate behaviours, and emotions control. It not only helps improve the processing speed but also upgrades the academic performance.
Preschool children of ages 3 to 5 years must be encouraged to engage in active play and in structured activities, such as throwing games and riding a bicycle or tricycle. They need to engage in activities that allow them to move their bodies (crawl, creep, slither, hop, skip, run, slide, and climb) in different directions and on different surfaces (flat, inclined, wavy, wet, and dry). They also need to practise postural control and balance. They must be able to move their bodies up and down in space while not touching the ground (jumping, hopping, skipping, bouncing, and leaping), as well as experience various types of body contortion (turning, spinning, rolling, twisting, tumbling, gesturing, bending, stretching, and reaching).
It is important for them to learn about directionality (up, down, sideways, backward, and forward) and different temporal sequences (going quickly or slowly, fast or slow, and moving one’s body in time to different forms of music as well as different rhythms or sound patterns).
Children aged 6-17 years can enjoy substantial health benefits by doing moderate and vigorous-intensity physical activity for up to 60 minutes or more every day, ranging from aerobic exercises to muscle and bone strengthening activities. Running, swimming, dancing, hopping, skipping, jumping rope, and bicycling are examples.
Muscle-strengthening activities that children can enjoy can be unstructured, and may be part of play, such as playing with playground equipment, climbing trees, and playing tug-of-war. Running, basketball, tennis, jumping rope, and hopscotch are activities that boost bone strength and growth.
Children need to experience a variety of shapes of equipment used in physical sports through the visual memory, symbolic memory, linguistic, kinaesthetic, and proprioceptive properties of each shape (round, oval, square, thin, twisted, and straight). Physical characteristics of sports items, such as bats, balls, hockey sticks and rackets, must be made accessible. They shall get exposure to a variety of concepts and actions.
A strong versus weak, heavy versus light, smooth versus rough, smoothly versus jerkily, push versus pull experience will provide children with foundational skills that will allow them to overcome physical and mental challenges. These experiences will also help them grow confidence in their ability to execute skills. Physical sports not only help them grow physically but also upgrade their decision-making skills, social-emotional development by teaching team spirit, accepting wins and losses, and making friends.
(The writer is a developmental and behavioural pediatrician, and the director and co-founder of Continua kids)
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