3 Reasons to Exercise and the Best Way to Encourage Your Child to Actually Do It
Jonas used to be a pretty active kid when he was younger. Then he got into middle school and classes got harder and the physical side of his life sort of... dropped off. His parents didn’t think it was a big deal since he was focusing on his academics. His parents felt this was a good idea. While Jonas’ grades were pretty decent, his parents suspected he wasn’t quite reaching his potential.
With the new year and new goals, Jonas wanted to try some physical exercise. He talked through different options with his parents and ultimately decided to enroll in martial arts a couple of times a week. At first, it was a schedule adjustment. Jonas had to manage his homework more carefully on his martial arts days. After a few weeks though, things settled down into the new pattern.
Then, surprisingly, Jonas’ grades started to rise. His concentration during homework time improved. He began to have more energy for the day and was more focused during school. His parents couldn’t help but think the change was exercise-related.
They were right!
In the history of our species, there were a lot of predators and food was difficult to find and obtain, so physical fitness was a critical component of survival. Even in our early history, much of the work we did was manual labor so physical fitness continued to be important.
As we have developed socially, economically, and technologically, there has been a shift in focus. In order to understand, operate, and further develop, large mental capacity is required, so the emphasis on physical fitness has diminished. Our education system is supposed to be preparing our children for jobs, and most jobs today focus on human innovation and creativity, neither of which appear to require physical fitness.
Or do they?
Because physical health was so important for so long and because our minds are located in our bodies, it makes sense that the mind and body would be interconnected with each other. Yet we tend to treat these parts of ourselves separately, especially in children. Grades are easy to see and take note of while changes in physical health are usually much more gradual and subtle.
But if our children’s minds are in their bodies, doesn’t it reasonably follow that some portion of their bodies’ state will correspondingly impact their minds?
In fact, it does!
A study in South Korea called “The relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement among adolescent in South Korea” (Han, 2018) examined over 200 children aged 13-15 and found a connection between their performance on South Korea’s physical fitness test and their grades. The better a child did on the fitness test, the better he or she was likely to do in school.
And that’s not the only study. What follows are three ways physical fitness can benefit your child and the best way to encourage your child to exercise.
We have to start with the obvious. Physical exercise is good for your child’s physical health. The medical article Physical Exercise and Academic (Cid FM & Muñoz HD, 2017) opens with a statement describing how a habit of physical exercise has positive effects on the heart, the lungs, and hormone stabilization among other benefits as well as providing resistance to diseases like diabetes. All parents want their children to be healthy and exercise is clearly part of that.
Additionally, children discover the range of abilities their bodies possess. It is exhilarating to push yourself to your limits and find out all of things your body is capable of. And not everyone is the same. Different looking bodies have different capabilities. When your children understand how their bodies work and are familiar with the special ways their bodies help them accomplish different things, your children will appreciate and value their bodies more. Valuing what you can do over how you look can change a child’s outlook and self-perception and help them in overcoming insecurities.
Another physical benefit of exercise is on brain development, particularly children’s brains. Workout Trends states that exercise can impact brain development positively in several areas. Exercise results in “enhanced oxygen flow to the brain, better and improved brain neurotransmitters, and improved neurotrophins that support the differentiation and survival of neurons [the connector cells] in young people’s brains.” It also states that neurotrophins help neurons survive in areas of the brain that govern memorization, the learning process, and critical thinking. For further reading about the development of teenaged brain, check out our article on the subject.
Speaking of the brain, your child’s brain is linked directly to his academics. Obviously.
Cid et al. 2017 says, “Recent studies report the positive relationship between physical exercise practice and academic performance of primary, secondary and university students. The sedentarism seems to be a risk factor for the cognitive functions, which represent fundamental elements for the correct school performance.” Basically, sitting makes it hard for your child’s brain to engage while exercising makes your child’s brain more active (like the rest of his body) and thus, more effective at its job. Post University published an article citing several studies which showed some of the specific benefits you can except in your child’s academics if he exercises regularly. Exercise clears the mind, improves concentration, strengthens memory and recall, increases creativity, and is likely to lead to an optimistic emotional mindset which is important for test taking and having a learning mind in general.
Connected to academics is college, in particular college applications. While physical fitness will indeed help your child in the actual act of applying, we are talking about how physical activities stand out on college applications and contribute to college acceptance.
Colleges like to know that your child is well-rounded. If the only thing a child ever does is study, how can he engage and contribute to the campus and the community? That’s why extracurriculars are important in showcasing how wonderful your child is as a person.
Post University has another article specifically referencing athletic activities as attractive elements in a college application. It demonstrates your child has the fortitude to commit himself to a physical activity and humble himself enough to learn from someone else. These characteristics distinguish all good students. If it is a team sport, it also proves your child is a team player and can work well with others, an important part of being a part of any community.
You want your child to stand out to university admissions in the best way possible. Physical activities are a great way for your child to do that. Now the trick is, how to get your child on board...
The best way to encourage your child to engage in physical activity: make movement fun!
Some children are naturally physically talented. That’s great! What is also great is your child doesn’t have to be a varsity athlete to engage in physical activity. As the saying goes, a little goes a long way. Work with your child based his interests and see if you both can find something fun for your child to do, even if it is small. Why fun? If something is fun, your child is more likely to engage, participate and enjoy it.
So, make exercise fun!
Most children are unlikely to be excited about a workout video or Pilates three times a week. If your child is just starting his physical exercise explorations, suggest active games like Ultimate Frisbee or propose a walk-and-talk social club.
If your child wants a more team-oriented, sports approach, many areas have community sport leagues which can help teach your child a sport he is interested in. It also helps your child develop relationships with other people outside of school. There are many options at every fitness level. Find what will work best for your child.
The academic journey is multi-faceted. We at Spark Tutors are here to support your child’s academics in whatever way we can. If jumping jacks before a tutoring session are useful, let us know! Whatever physical activity your child engages in, we hope you both enjoy it.
This article contains our hopes for the academic excellence of all of our students, even if help comes from an unexpected direction. Take advantage of the ideas presented and do what it takes to help your child be as healthy and smart as possible. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!