At times, it can be draining making an effort to keep up with a five-year-old. If you’ve been around an active child of this age, or if you have one of your own, you may have found yourself wishing that the kid would just “veg out” for a little while. But, new research is affirming the long-term health benefits of this whirlwind of activity.
In fact, according to a new University of Iowa, USA, study, rather than making an effort to slow these little ones down, five-year-olds ought be aided in being as active as possible. Why? “Because it pays off as they grow older,” said Kathleen Janz, lead author of the study and professor of health and sport studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Being active at age five assists kids in staying lean as they age even if they don’t continue to be as active later in childhood. “We call this effect ‘banking’ because the kids benefit later on, similar to having a savings account at a bank. The protective effect is independent of what happens in between,” Janz went on to say.
Using a special scanner that accurately measures bone, fat, and muscle tissue, and an accelerometer that measures movement every minute, the UI team tested the body fat and activity level of 333 kids at ages five, eight, and eleven. The kids wore accelerometers to record their activity level for up to five days, providing much more reliable data than relying on kids or parents to track minutes of exercise.
Even when controlling for their accumulated level of activity, the study (published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine) indicated that kids who are active at age five end up with less fat at age eight and eleven. The average five-year-old in the study got thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. For every ten minutes on top of that, kids had one-third of a pound less fat tissue at ages eight and eleven.
Although further research is required to determine what happens to the active kids’ bodies that keeps them in better shape down the road, Janz said that it could be that the active 5-year-olds didn’t develop as many fat cells, improved their insulin response, or that something occurred metabolically that supplied some protection even as they became less active.
Weight moderation, however, isn’t the only benefit of early exercise. As Australian chiropractors we have observed over the years that active kids have far less ordinary childhood health challenges, like catching colds and the flu. Chiropractic care is, of course, exceptionally beneficial in helping kids to stay healthier. But, in addition, the stimulation to the brain that occurs during activities, especially those that necessitate “cross pattern” motor movements of the larger muscles, i.e., right hand/left leg and left hand/right leg, such as crawling, running, climbing, and skipping, also boosts the autoimmune system and keeps kids healthier.
A large number children today are overweight and unhealthy. Though part of the problem is an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise is also a major contributing factor. If you have a five-year-old who prefers to watch television or play video games rather than participating in more active play, help your child to get up and get moving into healthier activities. Moderate to vigorous activity will not only benefit your child now, but will aid in building a healthier future. You can bank on it!