It is no secret that exercise and physical activity are beneficial to a child’s health.
The US Department of Health recommends that children get at least one hour of physical activity a day to combat obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems.
However, physical benefits are not the only reason why children need exercise on a regular basis.
Many studies increasingly show that there is a positive correlation between a child’s physical activity and his or her mental development.
In fact, physical activity has a three-fold benefit to mental development: social, academic, and mental health.
How Physical Activity Benefit’s A Child’s Mental Development
1. Social Benefits of Physical Activity
When children participate in organized sports or exposed to an organized physical education class in school, it further emphasizes the fundamental values they learned in the sandbox all those years ago.
Sharing, working together, and celebrating together are all essential components of team sports and organized play.
Working together and seeing such work pay off helps strengthen a child’s relationships with his or her peers, and gives him or her something to bond over with other children.
Therefore, the social aspect of specific physical activities help to develop a child’s sense of camaraderie and teaches them positive values.
The child then carries these values with them throughout life.
2. Academic Benefits
According to a study by the Delaware Department of Education, it is also true that physical activity has a positive impact on a child’s performance in school.
The study concluded that “students who are physically fit are more likely to perform well and to behave well in school – regardless of their gender, race, family income, or school district.”
Exercise increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, which boosts its ability to function.
John Ratey, MD, co-author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, explains that during physical activity, the brain produces a protein called BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, that builds nerve-cell connections.
The stronger these connections become, as a result of continued physical activity, the easier it is for children to understand as well as retain information.
Exercise also stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which boosts your alertness and concentration.
As such, it helps children and adults alike focus better on learning!
3. Mental Health Benefits
Physical activity has a positive effect on a child’s mental health.
Perhaps you’ve experienced having a particularly stressful day at work and decided to blow off some steam with an afternoon run.
Afterward, you feel refreshed, your mood elevated.
The same holds true for children.
Physical activity can impact a child’s mood, as well as his or her motivation and focus.
The neurotransmitters you read about in the previous section, dopamine and serotonin, play a part in giving you this uplifted feeling.
Exercise also releases endorphins, hormones that make you experience positive feelings.
Not only is exercise an essential aspect of your child’s physical development, but it is also a crucial element to his or her mental development.
4. Better Sleep
Exercise helps your child blow off excess energy, so they are more likely to have sound nights of sleep.
Sleep is also essential for learning, as the brain continues to process information as you snooze.
When you’re asleep, your brain processes and converts the information you collected throughout the day into long-term memory.
So insufficient sleep not only means your child will be sluggish and unable to concentrate, but it also affects their capacity to retain what they learned during the day.
Studies show that newborn babies are actively learning in their sleep, and neural connections form while babies sleep.
When they are older, sleep continues to play an essential role in the formation of long-term memory – studies show how kids retrieve information better after napping than if they didn’t get a chance to rest.
They’re also more alert and able to concentrate than if they didn’t get enough rest!
So, cut down on the TV or smartphones right before bed – the blue light emitting from these devices trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime and keep them alert.
No sugary snacks before bed either, since these can disrupt your child’s deep sleep.
As a result of consistent physical activity, children are likely to perform better in school, learn social lessons, and gain friendships, and be more mentally healthy.
All of which are important to set them up for successful futures.
Is your child keeping physically active?
If they are not, are you going to be ensuring that they are, having read this piece?
This article was written on behalf of JumpBunch, a mobile sports & fitness program for kids. Be sure to visit JumpBunch online for resources for parents, coaches, and educators, and to find a location near you.
[ Updated – October 23, 2020 ]