There was a time when school age kids, 6 years old to 12 years old would have no problem getting in at least an hour of exercise and free play a day. Those were the days when the school day included morning and afternoon recesses and time after lunch to burn off some steam outside – running, jumping, skipping, playing chase, jumping rope, swinging, and climbing the jungle gym. But along with the need to pack more academics into the school day and the elimination of physical education programs from many elementary school curricula, the time kids had to spend being active while in school began to shrink. Fortunately, programs like Move to Learn and the NFL’s Play 60 campaign are bringing physical activity back to our kids’ school days in Mississippi, but for most kids the aggregate amount of time spent getting moderate to vigorous exercise is still below what is recommended.
Kids need physical activity to build strength, coordination and confidence. It is also important to establishing the habits of a healthy lifestyle and preventing childhood obesity. According to a recent article in the American Journal of Managed Care, an estimated 41.8 percent of school-aged youth in Mississippi are overweight or obese.
According to KidsHealth from the Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media, children 6 – 12 years old should get 1 hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most or all days. They should participate in several bouts of physical activity of 15 minutes or more each day and avoid periods of inactivity of 2 hours or more unless sleeping. Well-Being spoke to Kira Berch, MS, ATC, LAT, of Mississippi Sports Medicine as an athletic trainer, about the importance of the right kinds of physical activity for a growing child.
“Physical activity that involves running and jumping makes muscles stronger and more pliable, and helps build stronger bones,” explains Ms. Berch. “As the child begins to add more and more stress to his or her body, in a steady and progressive style, he or she is less likely to experience issues like muscle stiffness, atrophy and fatigue and suffer bone injuries such as stress fractures.”
“Exercising a minimum of 60 minutes a day can also improve a child’s reflexes and coordination,” continues Berch. “As a child grows they must learn how to be in control of their bodies through new perceptions of gained heights. Many children develop drastically between 6 and 12 years old – experiencing a steadily changing body that comes with ever-changing shoe sizes, different body masses, and longer legs and arms. Without consistent physical activity a child can be in danger of injury, based on their changing perspectives of the world around them. They are more likely to trip and fall easily, leading to muscle/ skeletal injuries in what one might called an ‘awkward stage.’”
Elementary school-age kids should have the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities, sports and games that fit their personality, ability, age and interests. Many parents and kids automatically think of organized sports when it comes to fitness activities. Although there are great advantages to signing a child up for soccer, baseball, basketball and other team sports, practice time and games once or twice a week alone are not enough to reach the recommended activity goals.
However, organized sports have other benefits, according to Ms. Berch.
“We find that the more a child participates in multiple sports and activities, the better they can master basic skills. Studies show that some of the most outstanding collegiate and professional athletes spent many years of their youth playing a wide variety of games and team sports which allowed them to develop an extensive range of skills and abilities, while learning to master the art of sportsmanship and the grace to handle social dilemmas like winning and losing.”
Kira Berch, MS, ATC, LAT, of Mississippi Sports Medicine, received a Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training from Southeastern Louisiana University, followed by a Master’s degree from Mississippi State University in health promotion. She serves Florence High School as MSM’s athletic trainer, as a Sports Medicine and Health Science teacher, and student advisor for HOSA-Future Health Professionals.