Does this sound familiar? I walk into my kitchen and there sits three kids with eyes fixated on their Kindle Fire, I Pad and Nintendo DS. There is a dust silhouette of each child’s body because they have not moved from the same spot for, oh say, three hours. It is tempting to just pass by because hey, they are not fighting or making a mess, and I would love to get more chores done; but as a health professional that is always promoting the importance of exercise, I place the chores on the back burner and get the kids outside. Yes they do complain, moan and groan, but Mom knows best and out they all go.
Now we all know exercise can help your child achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It can help with strengthening their heart, lungs, muscles and bones. But, did you realize that physically activity helps with your child’s cognitive functioning? One of my favorite books ‘Brain Rules’ written by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, discusses how vital exercise is for the brain. Studies have shown that a life time of exercise leads to better cognitive functioning than sedentary people. People whom engage in regular physical activity outperform sedentary people in long term memory, reasoning, attention, problem -solving and intelligence task (Medina, pg. 14). This is true for children as well. When researchers compared groups of children that engaged in physical activity ,such as gym class, in contrast to no physical activity, across the board, physical education helped the children perform better in class and have higher test scores ( Medina,pg.24-25).
Why does exercise makes such a difference in the brain’s function? There is a whole complicated molecular explanation for this, but generally exercise increases blood flow to the brain which stimulates new capillary growth. This allows more brain cells access to nutrients the brain needs. This, in turns stimulates brain growth factors that develop more neuron cells and keeps existing cells young and healthy ( Medina, pg 22). Pretty exciting all this occurs with a simple jog around the block.
When you tell your kids that getting exercise will help them be smarter and do better in school they get pretty excited about their new found potential. Getting the kids to stay active can be challenging with school work and other activities. Having your kids in a sport is a wonderful way to incorporate exercise. Although, when the season is over, or you’re on school break you need to keep in mind some of the free fun activities in Center Grove or the Greenwood area that will get your kids moving.
Two of my kid’s favorite local parks are Independence Park and Freedom Park. Independence Park is a beautifully landscaped park tucked away off of Morgantown Road and beholds many gems. It is the only park on the southside that is fully equipped for individuals with disabilities including an asphalt 3/4 mile wheelchair trail, a wheelchair basketball court and a sound and sensory playground for autistic children. The soft safety ground surrounds two playground areas, one area is for toddlers and the other area is for school aged children. The kids can also play on a full basketball court or there is open field space to start a kick ball game. We enjoyed the paved Literacy/Exercise Trail where there are great photo opportunities. They also have a large gazebo, three picnic shelters and bathrooms. Another great feature is this that the playground does get some tree shade, and since it is elevated the park always seems to have a nice breeze.
Freedom park is another favorite park located off of Averitt road and Stop 18. When you enter this park you are greeted with a row of young trees leading to the several exciting and unique activities. First of all there is a towering castle-like playground for children ages five to twelve. My four year old can not resist, so it is little nerving watching him climb so high. Plan to be your younger child’s spotter. The challenging obstacles and height are perfect for my nine and twelve year old girls. It was exhilarating for them to be so high. A much more scaled down playground for younger children is available as well. The huge grassy hill is also a great physical challenge for kids and parents to climb, or sled down in the summer! Try running up and down the hill a couple of times, you will feel the burn! When your on top of the hill you can get a good look at the frisbee golf course, tennis courts, basketball court, football/soccer field and paved walking trail. There is even a special obstacle dog park for your furry best friend. Two picnic shelters and bathroom facilities add to the your convenience. I think older kids enjoy this park due to the challenging sky scraping playground equipment and huge grassy sledding hill. This is a new park with a vast open feeling. Lots of young trees have been planted and will look beautiful when fully grown. This will be a great place for Greenwood to host their future water park starting the summer of 2014.
I know that there are other fun parks as well in the Center Grove and Greenwood area that many enjoy. If you do not want to load the kids in the car then the best thing to do is to get them outside to play and you can be an example by taking some time to join them. The CDC reports that a typical American child or adolescent spends an average 7.5 hours a day either engaging in watching TV, movies, computers, video games and cell phones. Childhood and adolescent obesity is 17% in the United States which has tripled since a generation ago (www.cdc.gov). Excessive use of entertainment media and being sedentary does not help improve brain and physical health. Instilling the importance of exercise early in your child’s life will lead to multiple life long benefits. So help your child develop good exercising habits and you will see an increase not only in their physical health, but improvement in their sense of well-being, confidence, focus and brain function.
Alicia Wettrick MSN, FNP-BC
2). Medina, John: Brain Rules : 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, 2008.