How playing sports can benefit your child: Building a foundation for health

Youth sports participation has dropped 8 percent over the last 10 years, sparking concern that our children aren’t getting enough exercise or building the foundation for long-term health.

“Both team and individual sports are great for helping our kids develop inside and out,” said Geisinger fellowship trained family and sports medicine physician, Dr. Aaron Dawes. “The physical, emotional and psychological benefits are hard to ignore.”

Here are four physical and emotional benefits of getting out of the house and onto the field.

Better bone and muscle health

Most of our bone mass and density is accumulated before the age of 18; building strong bones as a child can help prevent osteoporosis later in life.

“At least 60 minutes a day of exercise builds strong bones and prevent breaks,” said Dawes. A diet high in calcium and vitamin D will also help with bone strength.

Sports, conditioning and regular stretching will also build strong and flexible muscles that are more resistant to injury.

Increased focus

Studies have shown that children who are more active show greater attention, cognitive processing speed and standardized testing scores than less-active children.

“There are a variety of possible reasons for this, including increased blood flow to the brain as a result of a heightened heart rate and better sleep following exercise,” said Dawes, “which leaves kids refreshed and attentive.”

Finally, there is emerging research that suggests students who play sports or engage in physical activities have a higher capacity for learning in school.

Teamwork and relationship-building

If your child is playing sports, the benefits will be more than just physical. Most team sports require clear and constant communication to execute plays–a skill that comes in handy throughout life. And playing sports can help build self-esteem and confidence.

Even if your child runs track or swims, they likely practice with teammates. This gives them the opportunity to meet and spend time with a variety of kids.

Sports also teach players to work together as a team, encouraging leadership and discipline while learning rules and regulations. Kids also learn time management and the significance of hard work when it comes to juggling their practice schedule with day-to-day activities.

Lifelong healthy habits

Regular physical activity releases endorphins to the brain which will leave you feeling uplifted and in a better mood, thanks to their interaction with your hormone receptors. You will also be less sensitive to minor aches and scrapes. All of these positive feelings may keep you playing the game into adulthood.

Sports also help with conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Though no amount of exercise can fully negate an unhealthy diet,” said Dawes, “staying active can help your child maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk for developing weight-related conditions.”