How Movement and Physical Activity Impacts Children’s Health and Development

By Robyn Papworth, Developmental Educator, Exercise Physiologist

How does your body feel when you go for a walk?

How does your mind feel after you’ve been dancing?

How does your body feel while washing the dishes?

How does your mind feel after spending time outside?

For me, my body feels calm and stress-free after going for a walk. My mind feels excited and uplifted after dancing. My body feels stimulated and relaxed after washing the dishes. My mind feels at ease, and less anxious after being outdoors.

Our bodies are designed to move, our minds are designed to move, that’s why I am passionate about encouraging daily movement for children’s health, development, and learning.

As an Exercise Physiologist I use movement to improve development, physical health, and coordination. As a Masters qualified Developmental Educator, I use movement and play to improve behaviour, mood, social interaction, and learning.

Through the work that I do in the early childhood sector, I focus on movement being important for four main areas.

For our:

  • Physical health
  • Motor development
  • Emotional development
  • Learning

For Our Physical Health

For our physical health, movement helps our muscles to become stronger, our joints to move smoother, our balance to be more stable, our heart and lungs to work more efficiently.

Movement and physical activity reduces our body’s risk from chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, arthritis, dementia.

Research indicates that by encouraging our children to be active when they are young, children are more likely to be active when they are teenagers, and also more active when they are adults. Research also shows us that children who have more coordination and gross motor skills typically participate in more physical activity as teenagers than compared to children who have difficulties with their motor skills. This is why it is crucial for children to have the opportunity to practice and develop their motor skills, to not only benefit their physical health and development during their childhood, but to also promote positive physical health and development as they grow older.

For Our Motor Development

When children move their bodies they are developing a range of different motor skills including:

  • balance
  • crossing the midline
  • spatial awareness
  • core strength
  • muscular strength, and
  • bilateral coordination.

Children need balance to be able to navigate a playground with their friends and as adults we need balance to protect ourselves from falls.

Children need crossing the midline skills to be able to put on their own jumper, undo the zip of their backpack with one hand, write their name in large print, draw a large painting without moving their torso, tying their shoelaces, and walking heel to toe across a balance beam.

Children need spatial awareness skills to avoid bumping into furniture, to avoid running into their friends in the yard, to be able to feel where their nose is versus where their fingertips are, to be able to feel the type of object that they are holding in their hand, to be able to climb, crawl, and dance.

When most of us think of core strength we think of sit-ups or the plank. But core strength gives us the ability to sit upright in a chair, to stand up tall while waiting in a line, to be able to stand up from the floor without needing to use our hands. Children need core strength to create a strong foundation for their fine motor skills, as well as relying on their core strength to create a strong foundation for their balance.

Muscular strength is important for all of us to develop; to be able to hold our own body weight while jumping, climbing, skipping, hopping, dancing. If we don’t have good muscular strength our body fatigues quickly, our body struggles to keep up with physical activity throughout the day, our body struggles to maintain the strength and endurance that it needs to live an active life.

Bilateral coordination refers to the ability of the body to coordinate both sides of the body at the same time. We use bilateral coordination when we draw a picture. One hand uses the pencil to draw while the other hand keeps the piece of paper still. We use bilateral coordination to get dressed. One hand holds our pants up while the other hand coordinates the zip. Bilateral coordination enables us to improve our gross motor skills and our fine motor skills, which in turn improves our learning and life skills.

For Our Emotional Development

We often think when children have difficulty regulating their emotions that we need to just teach them how to regulate their emotions. However, our emotional regulation can be improved by adding movement into their day because when we move our muscles and joints, an increase of oxygen gets pumped around the body by our heart. That increased amount of blood flow being pumped by our heart transports oxygen and energy to our organs and our brain. More specifically oxygen and energy travel to our prefrontal cortex and cerebellum. These two brain areas are responsible for coordinating our attention, behavioural responses, emotional responses, and our movement.

We often see children who find it difficult to be active also typically find it difficult to regulate their emotions. A lack of physical activity may impact their emotions because less oxygen and energy is travelling to the prefrontal cortex. In addition, children may have difficulty with their emotions if they feel frustrated about their ability to move their body. That’s why it’s so important that we support children to achieve their motor skill development as much as we possibly can.

For Our Learning

Our prefrontal cortex is also involved in our ability to pay attention when learning. When our prefrontal cortex has an increase of oxygen and energy, we are more able to pay attention and focus on a task. I have found more success teaching children to read sight words while we’re both walking. I have had more success talking to children about their worries and their emotions while passing a basketball back and forth together. I have found it enjoyable teaching children a new skill while they balance on one foot, while they’re climbing, or while they’re crawling because while the body is moving, more oxygen is going to the brain and the child is more engaged in learning the information.

How can we encourage movement every day?

To encourage our children to move everyday set 30 minutes time per day to:

  • Follow an exercise in your lounge room – [to view my videos on Music Kinder at Home, join the group]
  • Follow a movement and music video with Bonkers the Monkey
  • Dance to music as a family
  • Go for a walk outside as a family
  • Throw and catch a ball in your yard

Getting active each day does take some motivation to start with, but once we start moving, our mind, our body, and our emotions feel so much better.

To access more information for your family visit Robyn’s website or follow ‘Play Move Improve’ on Facebook or Instagram.

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