The beginning of a new school year is just around the corner. The new start provides an opportunity for your child to participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities, some of which include sports. Sports are a great way for your child to get active, gain confidence, make friends and learn life skills like responsibility and teamwork. If your child has never played sports or is transitioning to a new school, check the school’s website for the types of sports they offer and whether or not your child has to try out. This is something you will want to do fairly quickly as many fall sports, like soccer, golf and football, schedule their tryouts in late summer.
Knowing your child’s personality and abilities can help you and your children determine what sport to try. Are your children team players? Are they strong? Do they run fast?
So your kid has no interest in sports? No big deal. One of your goals as a parent is to raise a healthy child and instill healthy habits, which include physical activity along with diet and emotional support. While sports are a great way to increase physical activity, it’s not the only option. Your child can be active in many different ways including: playing on a playground, running/walking, dancing to music, biking, jumping rope, swimming, sledding, hula hoop, and yoga.
You can do many of these activities with your child. Not only will your participation encourage them, but it will provide an opportunity to form stronger bonds. Here are some of the benefits that physical activity offers your child:
1. It strengthens the heart. The heart is a muscle. Like other muscles, its performance improves when it’s regularly challenged by exercise. The heart responds to exercise by becoming stronger and more efficient. Strengthening the heart muscle can help ward off heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — even in early childhood.
2. It helps keep arteries and veins clear. Exercise reduces the amount of harmful cholesterol and fats in a person’s blood. It increases the flexibility of the walls of blood vessels, and helps to lower blood pressure. This can reduce a person’s risk for heart attack and stroke.
3. It strengthens the lungs. Working hard increases lung capacity and efficiency in moving air in and out of the body. As a result, more oxygen is drawn into the body and more carbon dioxide and other waste gases are expelled. Regular exercise helps prevent the decline in oxygen intake that occurs naturally with age or as a result of inactivity.
4. It reduces blood sugar levels. Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. This can reduce a person’s risk of developing diabetes.
5. It controls weight. When a person is sedentary, he tends to be taking in more calories than are needed. These unused calories accumulate as fat. A person who is physically active may have a deficit of calories, which takes fat away and lowers weight. Lowered weight is good for the heart and can be beneficial in people with diabetes.
6. It strengthens bones. Just as muscles grow stronger when physically stressed, bones also respond by getting stronger. Exercise increases bone density, which helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose density, weaken, and become porous and fragile.
7. It helps prevent cancer. People who exercise regularly have lower incidences of cancer. The cancers most affected include colon, prostate, uterine, and breast cancers.
8. It regulates blood pressure. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels. As the levels of stress in a person’s body subsides, his blood pressure and his risk for heart disease decline.
9. It improves energy levels. Regular exercise often makes people feel more energetic, allows them to be more active, and reduces the likelihood that they’ll tire during the day.
10. It enhances emotional well-being. Most people report that they feel calm and have a sense of well-being after they exercise. Exercise, according to one theory, releases beta-endorphin, a natural substance in the body that is hundreds of times more potent than morphine. Another theory points to serotonin as the cause of the exercise high. Increased levels of serotonin in the central nervous system are associated with feelings of well-being, heightening of appetite, and lessening of mental depression. The weight loss that accompanies exercise can also cause people to feel better about themselves.
4-H offers day camps, after-school programs and school enrichment activities that focus on physical activity. Each February is also 4-H Health Month, an opportunity for all 4-H clubs to discuss health-related topics and engage in physical activity. Harlan County 4-H offers Folk Dancing Classes on demand to all schools. Contact the Harlan County Office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service for more information at 573-4464 or 273-0835.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, sex, religion, disability or national origin.