We’re celebrating Every Kid Healthy Week!
Oftentimes you’ll hear adults wax nostalgic, “Back when I was a kid I used to play outside all day.” The fact is, back when we were kids, we were much more active. We’d get on our bikes and ride all day long, only coming in for a lightning-lunch or just in time for dinner. The activity level of children has changed drastically in the past forty years because our eating and activity behaviors have changed as well as our social and environmental surroundings. According to the CDC, one in five children are obese. The percentage of children with childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s.
Even our schools have changed. With new pressure on test scores and numbers, more hours are spent teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic than before. Kindergarteners are more sedentary than we were as kindergarteners. Physical education, art and music education programs are often the first to be cut. But with this short-sighted thinking, schools are not only adding to the epidemic of childhood obesity but also zapping our children’s brain power.
With children spending the better part of their days at school – between 30 and 40 hours/week – initiatives have begun to get schools become places to promote good nutrition, physical activity, and health-promoting programs (the donut club is out!). Moreover, physical activity and good nutrition are critical to boosting brain power.
To have better learners, we have to exercise and eat well. At home and at school. Exercise and nutrition are critical for good brain function. Are your neighborhood schools stepping up to the plate and offering plenty of opportunities to get your kids’ brains pumping?
- Pump up your hippocampus (the center of memory and emotion in the brain) and boost your memory with movement: Not just movement, but aerobic movement! Exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation while stimulating the release of growth factors. Brain-cell health and growth is linked to exercise. Studies found that a bulked up hippocampus is bulking up your verbal memory and learning.
- Get focused: A study of Dutch school children found that getting 20 minute bouts of exercise (TWENTY MINUTES!) between lessons boosted their concentration levels. With recesses getting shorter, our kids’ concentration and attention-spans, too, are getting shorter. Think about how many recesses your 7-year-old has in the day. After school sports programs, too, have proven to improve children’s abilities to concentrate during the school day. What kinds of programs do your schools offer?
- How we move and eat affects our mood: Almost 20% of children age 13 – 18 have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Exercise and nutrition cannot replace working with a health care professional, but they certainly can help. This Guardian article discusses the famous “runner’s high.” It is the real deal. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins in the brain. Moreover, the body’s homemade opiate gets released into the blood stream. This feels good. Don’t dismiss yoga, though! When we experience stress, our bodies automatically go to that fight or flight mode. Yoga is a deliberate control of breathing and our bodies’ reactions. It gives us control over the anxiety and can help us shift to relaxation response. So, what activities do your children engage in at school? Are they practicing yoga or meditation? Running? What kind of activities does the school promote to promote mental well-being.
- “Me thinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Thoreau didn’t have the science, but he wrote often about movement and creativity. Creative thinkers need to move. Our organs don’t work in isolation. Everything is connected, and creativity flows when blood pumps. There’s a science to it! (And you thought I’d just leave you with poetry.) Research published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience discusses the link between exercise and creativity.
So it’s time we smarten up by moving. Being aware of our children’s schools’ policies is a great way to find out how much exercise they’re getting during the day. Recess is important. PE, dance, and art classes are important. Science explorations and jumping rope to learn multiplication tables is important. What kinds of creative ways are schools working to get kids moving? Pay attention and become an advocate for movement and activities at your local schools. Our kids’ brains depend on it!