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Help kids kick off their day with exercise.
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Exercise can benefit kids in a variety of ways, ranging from disease prevention to improved mood and self-esteem. Because exercise is so potent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends kids of all ages get at least 60 minutes of exercise daily. Fortunately, that hour of exercise doesn't have to happen in a single chunk. Kids can break it into manageable, bite-sized pieces, starting with a short burst of activity first thing in the morning.
Over time, exercise can positively affect children's physical and mental health, boost self-confidence and possibly improve cognitive ability. There also appears to be an immediate, short-term benefit to exercising before the school day begins. Even a short period of physical exertion can boost blood and oxygen flow, stimulate the brain and improve its function, according to Dr. David Katz, founder of the "ABC Fitness Program." Morning exercise prepares a child's brain to receive and process information and can help reduce stress and improve concentration, all which can contribute to better learning. These benefits might also extend to children with attention deficit disorder, according to research appearing in the March 2013 edition of "Journal of Pediatrics."
Morning exercise sessions should begin with a brief warm-up to increase oxygen and blood flow, loosen muscles and joints and prepare kids' bodies for the more intense part of their mini workout. Start kids off with easy walking in place or high-knee marches, adding alternating arm swings as their energy levels increase. Continue the warm-up with some easy dynamic stretches, such as side-to-side lunges, torso twists and large arm circles. Move at a moderate pace, modeling the movements you're looking for and reminding kids to breathe normally.
Young at Heart
After the warm-up, kids can do some heart-thumping exercises to promote cardiovascular health. Set an egg timer or stopwatch for one minute and instruct kids to run in place, skip, gallop, jump rope or do jumping jacks. When time is up, let kids catch their breath for moment, suggest a different cardio exercise and reset your timer. Other kid-friendly aerobic exercises include mountain climbers, bear crawls, crab walking, star jumps, high-knee running and running butt kicks. You can also turn on music and lead kids in a simple dance routine, using basic aerobic dance steps, such as V-steps, grapevines, step-touches and hamstring curls. If you're working out with more than one child, you can get the children's heart rates up by playing a movement-based group game, such as "Simon Says" or tag.
Basic resistance exercises can boost muscle strength and improve bone density. Using light dumbbells, resistance bands, cans of food or milk cartons filled with water or sand, kids can do biceps curls, arm raises to the front and sides and triceps kickbacks. Chair squats and squat jumps challenge their lower bodies, including their quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. They can use standing and seated calf raises to work their lower legs. Kids can also hit the floor and do basic body-weight exercises, including pushups for the chest and shoulders, planks for the abdominal, back and hip muscles and bridges for the butt and thighs.
Playing It Cool
Like adults, kids should finish off their exercise sessions with a cooldown that includes light stretching. If you're using music, shift from fast, upbeat rhythms to something calm and relaxing. Turn the lights low and tell kids to consciously slow down their breathing. From there, kids can work on increasing their flexibility with basic stretches. Demonstrate stretches for the neck, shoulders, arms, back, thighs and calves and emphasize the importance of using good form. Examples of basic stretches include standing or seated toe touches for the posterior leg muscles, the butterfly stretch for the groin, cat-and-camel for the back, the overhead triceps stretch and the yoga-inspired Child's Pose. As their workout comes to a close, tell kids to take a few deep, cleansing breaths; remind them to drink before they head out for the day; and congratulate them on a job-well-done.