Why keeping our kids moving is more important than homework…

As I sat with my daughter the other evening, while she did homework, I thought:  it would be more fun if we were dancing. Or running around outside.

It would also be better for her. If you want your kids to do better in school, forget about the books: exercise is the way to go.  “Research demonstrates a direct relationship between fitness in children and the size of the hippocampus,” says Brett Klika, co-founder of SpiderFit Kids, an organization that fosters physical literacy in children of all ages. “The more ways a child can move, the more opportunities they have to drive brain development.”

You have likely seen the raging debate on social media about homework, but I would argue that exercise is that much more important. How kids move today will set them up for success, and offset a wide range of non-communicable diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and obesity. As it stands, two-thirds of Canadians are overweight or obese, and more than 60 percent do not get the recommended amount of exercise they need each week. Our kids have too much screen time and not enough game time. More importantly, urbanization and safety has meant kids don’t roam the streets as freely as they used to. A recent study found that Canadian kids score a D minus in physical literacy.  

Countless books and research publications have touted the beneficial ties between exercise and the brain. John Ratey’s 2008 book Spark literally sparked a revolution, demonstrating how aerobic exercise physically remodels the brain for peak performance.

Physical literacy is how adept a child is with basic movements like running, jumping, kicking, balancing and catching. According to the ParticipACTION only 44 percent of Canadian kids aged 8-12 meet the minimum requirement for physical literacy.

Physical education classes have been cut across Canada for the last 20 years. Whereas PE used to take place daily, the statistics today are startling: some kids don’t get any PE at all, and many other only have it once or twice a week. If kids are not going to get it in schools, we have to start adding more physical activity to our own children’s lives.  

The best way to do this is to simply move: put on an iPod and dance, set up an obstacle course in your house, let them throw pillows from the sofa onto the floor and let them do handstands against the wall. Buy them yoga mats, and download yoga classes for them on your computer.

physical literacy

Move as a family: go for walks or hikes, swim, bicycle, ski and skate. Get outside and play – even if it is cold! Look for parent-kids fitness classes or try out things like circus school or gymnastics as a family. Inspire your own kids by sticking to your own fitness regime: children will model their parents’ behaviour. If you are fit and active there is a very good chance they will be, too.

Physical fitness  programs like ParticipACTION, Active For Life and SpiderFit have a strong social media presence (you can like their pages for access to downloads and video ideas of movement games to do with your kids). There are also programs like BOKS kids, a non-profit started by Reebok, in partnership with the CFL and Canada Public Health. Now in more than 250 schools across Canada, it is a movement class offered in the mornings, run by volunteers.

Research from BOKS shows that kids who participate in the programs show improvements in school. “Exercise is like Miracle Gro for the brain. Children are better able to focus, retain information and control behaviour,” says Sinclair-Medeiros.

What are your family’s favourite ways to stay active?

Erin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at www.80-percent.com, Follow her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.