The Importance of Movement and Physical Activity
For children, physical activity and movement enhances fitness, fosters growth and development, and helps teach them about their world. As teachers of young children, we know that most children are innately physically active. They learn as they move throughout their environment. In observing a group of young children at recess, we will most likely see them running, jumping, throwing, and kicking in this unstructured environment. It is what they do naturally…they enjoy active play! So why should we be concerned with “promoting” physical activity in children? Here’s why.
Children today find themselves more often in “sedentary alternatives” (Epstein, et al, 1995). For example, children ride in a car or bus to school, have less physical education, watch more television, play more sedentary games such as computer games, and do not have as much freedom to play outside on their own. Consequently, there is mounting evidence that even our young children are becoming less physically active and more overweight and obese. Physical inactivity has contributed to the 100% increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States since 1980 (CDC, 2000). Childhood obesity should be of major concern for a number of reasons.
Obesity in children is a major risk factor for a number of diseases (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol).
Childhood obesity tends to lead to adult obesity.
Adults who were obese as children have increased morbidity and mortality irrespective of adult weight.
Overweight adolescents may suffer long-term social and economic discrimination (Boreham and Riddoch, 2001).
Besides reducing the risks associated with childhood obesity, physical activity is important for other reasons. Regular physical activity helps children build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints; builds lean muscle and reduce fat; prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure; reduces feelings of depression and anxiety; and may, through its effect on mental health, increase students’ capacity for learning. With these facts in mind, it is imperative that we, as teachers, help reduce the amount of physical inactivity, by increasing the amount of physical activity opportunities that children have during the school day. Being physically active not only provides important health benefits, but also provides children opportunities to learn through movement.