Play is an integral part of childhood. Take a few kids and set them loose on a playground, and they’ll create worlds and run, laugh, and invent games until it’s time to come in for dinner. Play isn’t just good for helping your little ones burn all their energy away during the day — it can help to keep them healthier. Let’s take a closer look at five ways how.
1. Combating Childhood Obesity
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. In 2016, nearly one out of every five children was considered obese. While you can blame some cases of obesity on genetics or metabolism, a great portion of these cases can be blamed on changes in physical activity levels. Today’s young generation would prefer to stay indoors playing video games instead of playing outside. According to the Mayo Clinic, children six and older need at least an hour of physical activity a day. The 30-minutes or less that they during their daily or weekly physical education class doesn’t cut it. Just getting one hour of exercise a day can help reduce childhood obesity and make the younger generation healthier in the long run.
2. Heart Healthy Kids
Childhood obesity is a big issue for more than one reason. Children who are considered obese are also at higher risk for type two diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea as children. They’re also at higher risk for heart problems and obesity as adults. You can encourage healthy behavior by offering healthy food choices instead of pre-made meals or fast food, and strengthening them to enjoy outdoor activities. Remember that kids tend to do as we do, rather than as we say. You can’t get your kids to enjoy exercise if you spend all your time on your phone or the couch. Show them the healthy choices you want them to make by making them yourself. Start exercising and making better decisions when it comes to your meals, and your little ones will want to follow your example. Encouraging them to get active as children will help turn them into healthier adults, too, because those healthy behaviors will carry over into adulthood.
3. Reducing Screen Time
We’ve already mentioned how today’s kids would rather stay inside and play video games, but you might not know how much time the average child is spending in front of a screen. In 2015, market research found that children between the ages of 5 and 16 spend more than 6.5 hours on screens. Teenage boys spend the most — a whopping 8 hours — instead of playing outside and exercising. You can work on reducing screentime by putting down your phone, banning screens during meal time and setting a timer to limit the amount of time your children get to spend with their displays. If they’re spending less time on their screens, they’ve got more time to get outside, play and exercise.
4. Brain Health
Play isn’t just good for physical health and combatting childhood obesity. It’s also integral in brain health. Every animal on the planet plays to learn the skills they’ll need to survive. Humans are no different. Play teaches our little ones how to use their imaginations, how to cooperate, how to make friends and how to be leaders. If you stick a group of kids together, one clear leader will always emerge, but it’s still friendly. This leader will direct their games, but if someone else has a better idea, they will step down and let the new leader take their place. These skills will carry over into their adult lives, and you’ll be teaching the leaders of tomorrow, creating the next generation of creative, problem-solving and critically thinking adults that will hopefully change the world.
5. Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders
We spend so much time helping our kids focus on things like tests and grades that we forget the most important thing about being a child — play! Encouraging our children to get off their screens and play can teach them important life skills while setting them up to become healthy adults. Childhood obesity is an enormous problem, and it’s getting worse by the year.
The best thing we can do to help our children be healthier is encourage them to play. Take a trip to your local park, let them participate in sports, or just send them out in the backyard to play. Kids will be kids, after all, and if you give them the option — or take away their screens — they’ll jump at the chance to get outside to create worlds, slay dragons and burn off those calories. Change their eating habits by replacing McDonald’s Happy Meals with healthy alternatives — and improve your diet, too, while you’re at it. Once you start turning these healthy choices into a habit, you’ll wonder why you ever did anything different.