There are loads of reasons why staying physically active can have a positive effect on children. One of the most publicised and talked about effects is that of tackling obesity. For children, obesity is known to cause; high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease; increased risk of diabetes, asthma and joint problems. It also affects children psychologically. It is known to be linked to psychological problems such as anxiety and depression; low self-esteem; and social problems like bullying.
According to Dr. Gina Dahel, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Obesity is one of the biggest public health threats facing the UK and the biggest human generated burden on the economy to smoking. The UK currently spends £5.1billion pounds per year tackling obesity related illnesses.
Importantly, physical activity is also directly linked to improving wellbeing. Participation in regular physical activity helps to increase self-esteem and can reduce stress, which we’ll go into further in the science bit below. It is also linked to the prevention of the mental health problems mentioned above.
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975.
41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016.
Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.
UK government guidelines state under 5’s should be physically active for at least 180 minutes spread throughout each day.
Studies have found that adults and children who participate in physical activity typically have greater physical skills and overall self-esteem.
Studies have shown improved sleeping patterns in those that are more physically active.
When you exercise, your brain chemistry changes through the release of endorphins (sometimes called ‘feel good’ hormones), which can calm anxiety and lift your mood.
Physical activity reduces feelings of stress and tension as your body is better able to control cortisol levels.
Simply, if more calories are consumed than are expended, weight gain occurs, which can lead to obesity. So the science of physical activity’s role in tackling obesity is relatively straight forward. Take part in more physical activity - burn more calories - reduce the risk obesity related problems.
When it comes to well-being, physical activity does alter your brain chemistry. When you exercise, endorphins are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. Since endorphins act on the opiate receptors in our brains, they reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of good well-being. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, likened to that of morphine!
EFFECTS ON BEHAVIOUR
Dr. Gina Dahel explained, “Studies have shown that weight itself, and what the child’s weight is when they start primary school, is an important predictor of outcomes for later on in life, so if the child is overweight when they start school, that’s something that will likely stay with them and get worse as they go through childhood and adolescence.”
Studies have also shown that children that are engaged in regular physical activity actually have a larger brain volume – specifically in basal ganglia and hypocampus. These parts of the brain are associated with cognitive control, memory and decision making. The help with our control of things like thought, action and behaviour.
Children that are regularly partaking in physical activity, it has been shown, are able to concentrate and give attention to a greater degree than less active children. It can help gain attention for competing stimuli This helps children to stay focussed and persevere in distracting settings – like a classroom!
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