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The Importance of Exercise and How Recess Can Help

More and more educators, researchers, and parents are realizing that not only is playground time good for kids, but it’s also a necessity for their emotional and physical growth. 

A recent study involving more than 11,000 eight and nine-year-olds, led by pediatric researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, proved that children who had at least 15 minutes of recess a day behaved better in class and were more disciplined than the rest. 

The study’s author, developmental pediatrician Romina Barros, found that student conduct was much better after recess. After concentrating for hours in the classroom, they were able to give their exhausted brains rest before going back to absorbing the next set of information.

Increased physical activity helps children build healthy bodies and prevent chronic disease when they age. Encouraging and helping our kids to love movement and exercise sets them up to be stronger and healthier teenangers and adults. Here are some benefits that can come from having your child engage in regular exercise, especially during recess.

How exercise helps children’s physical development:

1. Exercise is healthy 

Many children suffer from obesity at a young age. The outdoor playground is the best place for children to burn calories, practice physical skills and experience the pure joy of movement. Even children at healthy weight levels benefit from physical activity and require it for optimal health. Research has proved that children who are physically active in school are more likely to be physically active at home. 

2. Physical activity during recess feeds the brain 

We all know that most of the brain is activated during physical activity, a lot more than while sedentary. Movement increases the capacity of blood vessels in the brain. This expedites the delivery of oxygen, water and glucose or brain food, thereby optimizing the brain’s performance. Numerous studies have shown that students who are physically active during recess improve their academic performance and achieve higher test scores in school.

3. Recess helps develop muscle strength

Muscle strength helps to reduce children's risk of injury. During recess, children often lift things, including their own body weight, which keeps them healthy - this helps them to feel well and function optimally.

4. Improves cardiovascular capacity 

Moving vigorously cultivates a healthy heart and lungs and helps prevent hypertension, which can develop during childhood. Regular physical activity can also substantially lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease. Recess is one of the few inexpensive opportunities kids get for physical activities. 

5. Recess keeps bones strong

The crucial time to build bones starts before the teen years and lasts until the 20s, which is when bones grow to their maximum thickness. Encouraging kids to do weight-bearing activities like jump rope, running games and balancing can prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Recess allows children to spend time outdoors and engage in such outdoor games.

6. Recess decreases body fat

Aerobic activity helps children expend energy or calories, which helps them with weight control and positive body fat distribution. Recess time presents a good opportunity for children to increase physical fitness and decrease body fat. 

How exercise helps children's psychological well-being:

1. Recess reduces stress

The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends unstructured physical play as an appropriate means of reducing stress, given that stress has a negative impact on learning and health. For many children, especially hyperactive kids, recess is an opportunity to expend energy in a healthy manner. Outside, children are able to engage in any behaviour - loud, messy and boisterous, most of which are considered unacceptable indoors. 

2. Natural light during recess improves wellness 

Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland, which is the part of the brain that helps regulate the biological clock in children. It is vital to the immune system and simply makes kids feel better. Outside light available during recess also triggers the synthesis of vitamin D, which a number of studies have demonstrated increases productivity and academic learning.

3. Recess increases concentration and alertness

Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals that act on the brain as natural tranquillizers. Studies have shown that body movement improves mental focus and cognitive skills. 

4. Recess boosts energy levels

Movement stimulates attention and energy levels due to increased circulation and blood flow in children. Paying attention and following directions in class can be a challenge for some students, but a noticeable difference is seen when children are given ample recess. Students tend to be more attentive and better able to perform cognitively especially after recess.

5. Recess fosters feelings of happiness

Fun and physical activities with family and friends in a supportive environment give children the sense that they've achieved something new. They feel happy. Exercises and outdoor activities during recess helps a child's body deliver more oxygen and essential nutrients to the tissues, which, in turn, allows them to feel better throughout the day.

6. Recess reduces symptoms of depression

Physical activity can change a child’s brain chemistry and improve their frame of mind. For instance, exercise helps to increase levels of serotonin, which can contribute to reduced feelings of depression. Chemicals like endorphins released during exercise help the mind resist anxiety and depression.

Recess Exercises The Body and The Mind

More and more parents today are protesting school policies that allow administrators and teachers to withhold recess to punish student misbehaviour. Common offences include failure to complete homework or punctuality as everyday childhood behaviours that result in numerous children having to go without recess on any given day. Research clearly shows that children need recess. It benefits every aspect of childhood development, not only physical development but also social, emotional and intellectual development. 

Structured play such as PE, board games and after school sports are great for exercise, learning rules and developing strategy. Whereas, unstructured play like recess is better for physical performance and developing motor skills; it also helps children reach social and emotional milestones, manage stress and become resilient.

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