If you run a quick Google search on fitness, you’ll be faced with a plethora of blogs and research studies. There’s no dearth of information on how to start your fitness journey, no matter what your current level of expertise is on the subject. However, the only issue is - it’s all aimed at adults.
It’s something to think about - especially considering that habits are formed by the age of 9. A strong foundation in fitness can set children up for good health for the rest of their lives - and that’s just one of the reasons why we’re talking about this today.
Let’s start off by looking at the many benefits kids can reap by incorporating physical activity into their daily routines:
Improved cognitive development
Research has shown that individuals who are physically active up to 12 years of age exhibit higher levels of cognitive functions later in life. Moderate to vigorous exercise when done regularly helps improve focus and stimulates brain growth.
Prevention of heart disease in later life
Arteries can begin to stiffen at a very young age - and regular exercise in kids as young as three has been shown to benefit cardiovascular and blood vessel health, preventing early risk factors that can develop into heart disease later.
Reduced risk of obesity
Childhood obesity has been called an ‘epidemic’ in India, where over 14 million children are obese. Regular physical exercise can improve lean body mass, preventing obesity in kids and also helping those who are already obese lose weight by increasing their energy expenditure.
Improved social skills
Team sports in particular are associated with improved self esteem and social skills. They can also inculcate the values of empathy, sportsmanship, leadership, and teamwork in young kids.
How to get started with your kid's fitness
From the age of six through adolescence, children need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. You can encourage them by:
Partaking in physical activity together
Lead by example. Ask them to join you for a simple workout or just a game of football. Children will be more inclined to start their fitness journeys when they know you’re in it to show them the way.
Here's a super-cute video from our very own Shwetambari Shetty with her 2-year old daughter Yona having fun at the gym (never too early to introduce them to fitness, right?)
If your child has been leading a sedentary lifestyle all this while, it’s not a good idea to start them with something heavy duty right away. Encourage light exercise such as a post dinner walk or a beginner’s yoga session.
Keeping fun equipment at hand
Have a dedicated play area with jump ropes, hula hoops, balls and the like. Kids get bored quickly so incorporating different kinds of equipment is a great way to keep things interesting.
Setting aside device-free time
Encourage your child to spend time away from phones and tablets, and meet up with friends for some outdoor play - be it some form of team sports or simply running around in the neighborhood park.
Enrolling them in lessons
Once your child is used to some form of physical activity, it’s a good idea to enroll them in class - be it swimming, badminton, cricket, or even dance - to make it a regular affair and bring some structure to their day.
And yes, you can also enroll your child in a gym
Gym and strength training can begin as early as the age of 8. There’s a misconception that strength training in particular can ‘stunt a child’s growth’ - but the truth is, when done under the guidance of a trained professional, it can be a fun and rewarding activity (with no negative impact on growth).
Having said that, gauge whether your child has an interest in these kinds of physical activities and whether he or she is mature enough to follow instructions around the correct form and posture.
Just remember, kids too are prone to injuries - especially the younger ones whose reflexes aren’t fully developed. Wherever needed, ensure that:
- They have the protective equipment they need (e.g. helmets, knee pads)
- They are getting enough sleep (rest is essential to prevent stress injuries)
- You consult a doctor in case your child is suffering from a chronic disease (e.g. asthma)
For some inspiration, have look at this power-packed workout by 7-year old Arshia Goswami, the youngest deadlifter in India
A strong foundation in fitness sets kids up for good health even when they’re older
They key is to ensure that physical exercise be made fun for them - either by inculcating a healthy sense of competition (cricket clubs, swimming tournaments etc), or by enrolling them in interesting activities such as dance or rollerblading. In short, physical activity should be something they want to do, not have to do!