The importance of physical activity in children’s health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical and mental health play important roles in helping a child growing through life.

CDC officials say physical activity is one of the ways a child’s health stays strong.

“Physical activity is really important for children and adults. There are numerous studies that state that physical activity with children helps them focus in school, improves bone health and prevents the development of chronic health conditions,” said Dr. Ziva Petrin, an attending physician at Princeton Spine and Joint Center. “The most important part is that it is really enjoyable for children.”

Dr. Petrin practices in Princeton and has been specializing in non-surgical care of musculoskeletal injuries, sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation for two years. She explained that a child with good health and activity can, in certain instances, prevent injuries.

“There are specific exercise programs that have shown to prevent certain injuries in ACL and ankle sprains. Those programs are almost like a therapeutic intervention teaching children how to move better,” Petrin said. “Teaching a child to move better can prevent injuries. There are also studies showing that children that participate in one sport tend to have more injuries than children who participate in various sports or exercises.”

An activity that a child enjoys and likes is always better for child, according to Petrin.

“Walking, hiking, just kicking the ball around with friends, fishing, playing tag and any activity where the child is having fun and moving around are examples of activities I would recommend. Children prefer unorganized activities and I think nowadays children do not have enough unstructured play time,” she said. “Especially for younger children, play time is really important. Being able to share in an activity for families and friends is what is important for their overall development.”

Variety and enjoyable activities that involve a social aspect are keys for a child’s health and development, according to Petrin and the CDC.

CDC officials state that regular physical activity can help children and adolescents improve cardiorespiratory fitness, build strong bones and muscles, control weight and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Expert opinion state that children should be active everyday with organized or unorganized activities for at least one hour. For children we really think that they have to be active everyday,” Petrin said. “Unfortunately, a quarter of children in the United States meet this guideline. We need to have children be able to move more.”

In the CDC’s latest report, in 2017, only 26.1% of high school students participated in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day on all seven days of the week.

Several issues can occur over time if a child is not active. Physical inactivity can lead to energy imbalance and can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese; increase the risk of factors for cardiovascular disease, and lead to low bone density, which in turn, leads to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is the reduced density and quality of bone, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

For Petrin, she explained that the body is meant to move.

“If you look at research studies we are constantly looking at the benefits of movement. Staying active helps the joints, muscles, lungs and hearts,” she said. “Moving is just what the body is meant to do.”

Petrin said she sees children at her practice and has dealt with children injuries that include elbows from baseball players and pitchers.

“I focus on no-operative evaluation and management of injuries, which means I figure out what has caused the injury,” she said. “I treat the different injuries with rest, bracing or medication. Different injuries have different approaches.”

Nutrition and healthy eating habits are other aspects important for adults and children especially when it comes to recovery, Petrin said.

“Nutrition, good habits and having good sleep patterns is important in not only recovery but having a healthier life,” she said.

The CDC recommends aerobic, muscle- and  bone-strengthening activities as part of the 60 minutes or more of daily activity for children.

Petrin said that as long as children have varied exercises or participate in multiple sports there is a reduced chance of overuse injuries that typically occur from doing or participating in one activity.