Does homework time at your house make you and your kids want to scream? Contrary to what many schools push, and some parents believe, starting homework or staring at a computer after-school does not bode well for academic success. Playtime and afterschool exercise does. Sound too good to be true? A new study published by Pediatrics shows that afterschool exercise has more benefits than many parents—and teachers may believe. Children who exercised after-school showed better self-control increased executive functioning and improvements in memory.
The findings were published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics. Elementary school-age students who participated in an after-school program with plenty of physical activity showed greater improvements in several areas of executive functioning which refers to a range of mental or “cognitive” skills that include memory, focus, attention and the ability to switch back and forth between tasks. The benefits from after-school exercise extended beyond homework time and improved overall cognitive development. Executive control, the collection of mental skills that got a boost from the exercise, is critical for positive development.
“Executive control is also associated with fewer conduct problems, which can interfere with classroom instruction, less drug use, which interferes with learning, and less risky sexual behavior, which can result in school drop-out due to unintended pregnancies,” said researchers. We also know that neurotransmitters that aid in focus and mood are activated after exercise. Increase in serotonin availability is just one of the many benefits. To see what you child’s neurotransmitter levels are click here.
“The policy implication is that schools will want to consider providing increased opportunities for physical activity to their students not only to promote better health, but also to potentially increase academic achievement.” The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institutes of Health.
After-School Exercise Ideas
Connect With a Team or Gym
After school sports abound in the fall and spring, so if possible, get your children involved in one or two of the sports they enjoy most per season. Involving your kids in after school activities builds their self-confidence, fosters leadership skills and gives them the ability to work as a team player. Many gyms have kids programs so you get can your workout in and they can too. Swimming, hula hooping, Zumba, indoor relay races, and more. Lifetime Fitness and the YMCA have lots of kid friendly indoor and outdoor activities.
Head to Your Backyard
Sometimes kids really aren’t into organized team sports, which is no problem. When school is over, take the time to throw a ball, organize mini races in the backyard or up and down the street or set up a simple obstacle course in your yard and see how fast each of your children can get through it. Most kids thrive on a little competition, and if it gets them moving, even better.
Move with a Friend
Exercise is almost more fun with a friend. After school can be a great time to do something simple like take a walk or ride a bike, it’s free and doesn’t require any membership fees. Roller blades or playing at the park are fun ways to add socialization and some major movement. Schedule a walking date with other families in the neighborhood; kids can even ride along on their bikes. Commit to once a week for half an hour to start, and see how often and how long you can work up to.
Take Up Martial Arts
If your little one is more interested in solo activities that don’t necessarily involve teams, he or she may take a liking to martial arts. Karate, judo and tae kwon do are great for kids of varying ages and abilities, and cultivate self-discipline, self-confidence and a sense of respect for themselves and others. And if that weren’t enough, the kids get a heck of a workout while participating, too!
Rebounding (AKA jumping on a trampoline) has many benefits including NASA’s research showing that rebounding can be more than twice as effective as treadmill running. For brain breaks and total body workouts the trampoline may be your parenting sanity saver this winter.
More benefits include:
• Great for skeletal system and increasing bone mass
• Helps improve digestion
• More than twice as effective as running without the extra stress on the ankles and knees
• Increases endurance on a cellular level by stimulating mitochondrial production (these are responsible for cell energy)
• Helps improve balance by stimulating the vestibule in the middle ear and boosts lymphatic drainage and immune function
• Helps improve the effects of other exercise- one study found that those who rebounded for 30 seconds between weight lifting sets saw 25% more improvement after 12 weeks than those who did not.
• Rebounding helps circulate oxygen throughout the body to increase energy.
• Rebounding in a whole body exercise that improves muscle tone throughout the body.
• Some sources claim that the unique motion of rebounding can also help support the thyroid and adrenals.
• Rebounding is fun!
Plan a Dance Party
Turn off the TV, turn on the radio and throw a kid-sized dance party. Play music while mom or dad cooks dinner and watch as your kids move and shake. Encourage them to use their whole body to dance; kids will love jumping, kicking their legs and swinging their arms while moving to their favorite songs.
Yoga isn’t just for adults. It can be very beneficial for kids, as well. It has been shown to improve stress, breathing, flexibility and discipline. And it’s lots of fun! Look in your area for after school yoga classes aimed at kids. Lots of schools offer them and there are also tons of YouTube and Hulu videos that you can turn on for free.
Emily Roberts MA, LPC
Therapist & Parenting Consultant
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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