Physical play and movement are essential for growing minds and bodies. When you nurture the body, physically, you nurture the mind, both cognitively and emotionally. Providing your students with opportunities for daily active, creative play is the best way to lay a foundation for emotional health and academic fitness.
Unfortunately, children’s level of physical activity has steadily declined over the past 40 years and the percentage of overweight children has tripled since the 1980’s. The facts, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the late 1970s, about 5% of children between 2 and 5 years old were overweight; in recent years that figure has climbed to 20%. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 30% in 2011. Studies indicate that when patterns of little physical activity are established early in childhood, the amount of physical activity continues to decline into adolescence and adulthood, leading to increased health problems, obesity, and increased risk of cognitive disorders.
The physical activity patterns of childhood set up the physical patterns of adulthood, for better or for worse. The sooner this lack of physical activity is addressed; the better off the child’s overall health will be in the short and long term.
Research in the field of neuroscience shows that play and exercise not only keep us fit and at a healthy weight, they also boost our cognitive abilities. Dr. John J. Ratey, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes: “Exercise is miracle grow for the brain.” Why? because both aerobic and intentional exercise elevate the level of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is essential for the growth of brain cells. Every time kids move quickly or slowly, they fuel their brains with BDNF and other positive chemical messengers that enhance coordination of body and mind, learning, and memory.
Bottom-line, children need active play to be fit physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally:
• Play is the language of children and nature’s biological plan for learning
• Play fuels the production of the neurotransmitters essential for growth and development
• Play is multi-sensory and engages the whole child to show up
• Play inspires creative thinking
• Play puts children in a present, focused, receptive, integrated state
• Regular active play and exercise enhances academic achievement, fitness and behavior