For years, doctors and health experts have proclaimed the health benefits to kids from exercise. While exercise and health continue to receive attention, more and more research is focusing on the learning benefits. This includes work from leading health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to leading neuroscientists such as Dr. Wendy Suzuki at the NYU Center for Neural Science.
The studies largely point to three areas where exercise can show improvements:
1. Academic Performance -- grades, standardized test scores, and graduation rates
2. Behavior -- conduct, school attendance, and on-time completion of tasks
3. Cognitive Skills and Attitudes -- Attention, memory, verbal ability, and mood
How can you help your kids achieve healthy minds and bodies?
Even knowing these benefits, it can still be hard for parents and kids to fit enough physical activity into their busy lives. Here are 5 general habits that you can help your kids adopt to stay active:
? 60+ minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day (enough to require moderate effort and increase heart rates)
? Help your child(ren) start each day with at least 20 minutes of physical activity
? Ask your kids' teachers to provide short (5- to 10-minute) energy breaks throughout the day and do the same at home
? Encourage your kids to engage in 20+ minutes of active play (or recess) after lunch
? Wind down with a "slow down" routine before bed (limiting high-energy activities or video games)
Before you start worrying about how you're going to achieve all of these with your kids, realize that more and more schools are beginning to notice results and implement the goals. This obviously includes the elite private schools that want every edge to demonstrate the value of their often hefty tuition. It also includes, however, public schools in some of the poorest socioeconomic areas, which have been able to demonstrate academic improvements with increased physical activity, despite their often limited resources and large class sizes.
Are you looking for specific ideas and activities?
? "Smart" Simon Says: As a spin on the traditional childhood game, add in some simple math to fire up those problem-solving skills. For example, "Simon says, 'Clap 3 x 3 times,'" or "Stomp your feet 12 divided by 4 times."
? Spelling Jacks: Jumping jacks are a classic exercise for kids. Pair it with a spelling challenge, for example: "Spell 'exercise' and do a jumping jack as you say each letter."
? Adventure Charades: Pair outdoor activities and geographical themes for acting out in this version of charades. "Snowshoeing in Iceland," "Running from Dinosaurs," or "Swimming to the Caribbean" are some fun and challenging ideas. Or if you're short on time, have your kids go on an "adventure" on their own by acting out an action-themed book or an episode of Adventure to Fitness.