Run. Jump. Swim. Climb. Hop. Skip. Pedal. Physical activities such as this have tremendous value for both young and old alike. Exercise gets our body moving and has health benefits that stretch beyond just the physical. It’s important for our children to learn the value — and the fun — that comes with exercise at a young age so that they can carry these habits, and their benefits, with them throughout their lifetime.
The importance of incorporating movement and exercise into our daily lives and routines is similar for all of us, including those with special needs. We may need exercise for different reasons at different ages and stages, and how we exercise may change over time — but the need to get up, get the blood flowing and get the body moving remains throughout all of our lives.
The Struggle to Move is Real
Parents today might find getting their kids to move is harder than in years past. Children currently face temptations to remain motionless for extended periods of time that generations before didn’t necessarily have to overcome. In a little under 100 years, the technology we have at our disposal has increased at a drastic rate. The first electronic television was demonstrated in San Francisco in 1927, and it would still be decades before it became commonplace for families to have televisions of their own. Now, children have access to smartphones, tablets, streaming networks, apps, social media, gaming devices, computer games, smartwatches and so much more. As the number of screens with all of their features increases, it may be harder to encourage kids to do what so many in the generations prior just naturally did — go outside and play. But just because it’s harder, doesn’t mean it’s any less important or necessary.
The Benefits of Exercise
The benefits of regular exercise for children are many, and can include:
- improved cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs)
- maintenance of a healthy weight
- improved posture
- better sleep patterns
- increased self-esteem and confidence
- improved concentration
- help with relaxation
- building stronger bones and muscles
- improved balance
- increased flexibility
- opportunities to make friends and enhance social skills
Children with learning differences like ADHD might find that movement helps them to concentrate. They may find that bouncing up and down on an exercise ball instead of sitting still while doing homework helps them to get work done faster, with better grades. Or they may find that doing something physical for 20 minutes right after school helps when it comes time for them to sit and concentrate on those math homework problems.
Some children with special needs who thrive on routine might look forward to knowing there is a set time, or times, every day built in their schedule for physical activity. Physical activity can be a lot of fun, especially for a little one with a whole lot of energy to expel! And children with social anxiety may learn how to interact with peers in new ways as they participate in organized sports.
Active for Life
As we get older, we have the potential to view exercise as more of a chore. But for children, exercise is a fun part of their lives. Some simple ways kids can move around are by playing tag or hide-and-go-seek with friends, jumping rope, hula-hooping, jumping on a trampoline, swimming, walking a dog, dancing, gymnastics or getting involved in organized sports.
Exercise can also be incorporated into fun family outings, like a trip to the trampoline park, roller skating rink, a bike ride through town or a hike through the woods. If your child doesn’t do well with a lot of sensory stimulation, see if your local jump park or roller rink have sensory-friendly hours for your child.
Children should be getting at least one hour of activity a day, which might seem like a lot. But with so many fun ways to get the body moving, it can be done without them even realizing they are exercising. And the more they get used to this being a part of their day and routine, the more they may find they are craving that outdoor time and the great feeling that comes from moving.