In bygone days, neighborhood children ran and played outdoors from dawn ‘til dusk, biking through the dirt and capering in the woods. Moms and dads whistled loudly when it was time to come inside and eat dinner, and then the children all scattered home. But that is not the norm today.
More awareness for lurking danger keeps children closer to home with a play radius not much further than the front yard, and the advent of the internet connects children to friends from a computer screen and chair so they no longer galivant together through hidden paths in the woods. Today, children run less and have more sedentary play and organized socializing through contained play dates at friends’ houses in a playroom.
The change from the wild abandon of yore to the more confined and structured play of today is almost visceral. You can feel the social constraints that limit children’s activity as well as the restless energy stored within them, untapped and waiting to burst. In the absence of natural play that wiles away the day with large expenditures of energy, we must create the opportunity for children to let loose and play with gusto.
Children of all ages have an amazing capacity for spending energy, and their musculoskeletal systems are developmentally craving movement and full-body engagement. There just isn’t always enough opportunity for them to move in today’s daily routine, so we must be conscious of creating opportunities for them to get the physical activity their bodies require.
Gym classes, after school activity groups, and playdates that include movement are ways to incorporate active play into a child’s day. Ideally, one or more of these occurring daily would be best so that children have ample time to unleash their stores of energy. It’s vital to set aside dedicated time for activity so that children can fully develop their bodies and become healthy. Adults may need to make a little more effort to provide these opportunities, but it’s so worthwhile. The result of more active children is better not just for their health, but for the future.
Without activity, our bodies experience atrophy. Atrophy is a condition of the muscles, joints, and bones that renders them weak and incapable of doing their primary job to support the body in all its functions. Atrophy occurs over prolonged periods of inactivity during which the body is at rest for too long. While it’s not life threatening, atrophy contributes to other illnesses or diseases that certainly do harm or limit lifespans.
Atrophy is the result of a body that has not been allowed to perform in full; the human body is designed to work. The body is a system and a machine that regenerates and produces energy as needed; the body is meant to function. Muscle tissue benefits from use and building up strength, and without movement, those muscles will atrophy. Like any system, weaken one point and the rest will follow suit until the whole system collapses.
Luckily, the opposite is true: continued use will allow the body to grow stronger and prevent atrophy, feeding the system so that it builds itself up. An active body is a healthy body, staving off the harmful consequences of inactivity, like atrophy. It’s vital to stay active.
Children who engage in active play times will continue to build their system and grow stronger. The obstacles to unabandoned outdoor play time and the sedentary lifestyles we have grown accustomed to in society today foster an environment rife with atrophy, so we need to counteract the effects of this by including active times within our lifestyles.
The expression, “Knowledge is Power,” strikes at the heart of the problems facing today’s youngest generation: knowing that we need to stay active to be healthy is the first step to seeking those opportunities. Understanding the harm and causes of atrophy allows us to push against the forces that create the condition so that we can avoid it.
Technology and screen time are conducive to creating atrophy of the human body, so creating movement and activity away from those factors is the start. Children who learn to balance their screen time with active pursuits will develop healthy habits to last a lifetime.
Many times, safety concerns push parents to provide indoor screen time so that children can play in a non-threatening environment. By offering a safe space to be active, parents can now give their children this advantage.
Giving children the advantage of opportunities to be physically active starts a chain reaction that leads to healthy living as follows: exposing children to regular physical activity establishes a habit; children learn to seek and engage with physical activities; this early exposure and habit lead to skill development, and skills give children knowledge and the ability to pursue even more activity as they grow up.
Once the habit and skills become ingrained, today’s generation of children will be healthier adults tomorrow. The desire for more movement will lead to more individuals seeking activity which in turn influences society. If there is demand, there will be supply, and economic principles will drive society to meet the need.
As society continues to develop more technology to replace the need for humans to act, it will be ever more important for society to have an innate desire to be physically active. Understanding the connection between a healthy body and lifestyle and teaching skills to engage in physical activity will stave off the effects of atrophy and the encroachment of an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.
As the first link in the chain reaction, childhood physical activity initiates the healthy beliefs and actions that will define the future. Starting now, we can create a healthier future for the next generations by promoting and providing access to exercise.
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