Physical Activity…It’s a Family Affair!

The importance of making sure that we all get some physical activity every day is not news to any of us. The struggle to make this happen is not easily overcome, however, for many of the families that we work with (and possibly even our own families). As you know, one of the biggest challenges we all face when it comes to making lifestyle changes is finding the motivation. One of your most important roles in supporting families is to help motivate and inspire them to make the kinds of changes that they want to make. No one is really surprised to hear that daily exercise is critical for our health as adults, but today we want to shine a light on how physical activity is even more important for children.

It is essential that parents understand that modeling and promoting physical activity in the early years is critical. This will encourage the development of lifelong health habits that reduce the risk of developing many of the chronichealth conditions that can lead to most of our current leading causes of death. Supporting physical activity early in life also can be connected to decreased risk for impaired social and emotional functioning (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to report that childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Unfortunately, today’s children are more overweight than previous generations. Childhood obesity is a complex health issue. It occurs when a child is well above the normal or healthy weight for his or her age and height. Several factors are contributing to this trend including behaviors such as poor dietary choices, physical inactivity, medication use, and other environmental exposures.

These kind of considerations are important, but can be challenging as motivators for families because they are long term and often hard for parents to see right now, especially if it is not readily apparent in their child yet. Perhaps helping families connect the dots between their child’s developing brain and regular physical activity might serve as an additional way to inspire them to find lots of opportunities for physical activity.

Research during the last 10 to 15 years has clearly concluded that physical activity not only benefits physical health, but also has important benefits for brain development (Chaddock-Heyman, et al., 2014). Many studies have now demonstrated that children who are more fit have better performance on psychological tests and show more developed brain functioning on MRI’s than children who are more sedentary. (Gearin & Fien, 2016)

There are many ways parents can promote daily exercise and physical activity for the whole family, it just requires creativity and intentionality. More than ever before, parents are challenged with incorporating outdoor activities and play due to the many options that today’s electronic and online game platforms provide. What can we do, during home visits, to support parents to create a stimulating environment for physical activity and healthy brain development?

GGK provides several curriculum components and tools to get parents motivated to do physical activities with their children. One of this essential components is the GGK Body Builders Daily Do, a parenting skill set designed for growing excellent physical health and development.  It covers four categories including Good Nutrition, Responsive and Preventive Health Care, Daily Exercise, and Predictable and Safe Environments. Additionally, GGK offers hundreds of child development activities that promote daily developmental stimulation and physical exercise for all parts of the body. Let’s talk about why it is important that families practice the Body Builders Daily Do and incorporate GGK activities in their interactions with children.

The Body Builders Daily Do encourages parents to employ several strategies:

  • Encourage outdoor play and activities daily: role model and lead outdoor physical activities, bring your children to public parks, community baseball fields, or basketball courts.
  • Limit TV watching and other screen time: Instead of watching TV, encourage children to do fun activities with friends and family such as walking, riding bikes, etc.
  • Involve the whole family in daily exercise i.e. go for a walk, swim, and play outdoor games: Do all these activities together as a family and show interest in what children want to do for fun.
  • Provide a balance between free play and a variety of structured sports: free play is as important as structured activities, allowing children to experience both is essential for their overall development.

When children practice basic movements such as throwing, catching, jumping, running, taking turns to use playground equipment, and meeting other children at social play areas they are developing vital physical and social skills. These skills will be foundational for more complex activities later in life like sports, recreational and physical activities, and even executive brain functions.  Parents can start modeling and promoting all these skills in their child’s early years.

Check out the Growing Great Kids 13-15 months: Basic Care Module. It incorporates a subsection called Exercise: Toddlers on the Move? This is a great conversation guide to motivate parents to provide daily opportunities for large motor, physical activity and movement.  As in all GGK conversation guides, this subsection allows you first to explore with parents what they already know and do before discussing other possibilities. Don’t forget to always review the Payoffs with families. This subsection presents the benefits of family exercise for families and children including:

  • Toddlers take longer naps and sleep better at night when they are worn out by physical exercise
  • Toddlers who run around and explore outdoors are less fussy and cling less
  • The fresh air and exercise parents get by taking their children to the park improve their mood and outlook
  • Physical play strengthens the parent-child relationship because they have fun together
  • Physical play outdoors builds connection in a child’s brain that makes them more coordinated, smarter, and all around healthier.

All parents want to create the best opportunities for their children’s physical health and development.  Often, they just need more information to increase motivation to create those opportunities.  Take advantage of all the GGK tools as you support families become the parents they want to be for their children!

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Obesity Data Childhood. Retrieved from CDC.gov: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

Chaddock-Heyman, K. I., Erickson, J. L., Holtrop, M. W., Voss, M. B., Pontifex, L. B., & Raine, e. a. (2014). Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integritiy in children. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

Gearin, B. M., & Fien, H. (2016). Translating the neuroscience of physical activity to education. Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2016.02.001

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