The health benefits of physical activity go without saying, and research continues to show that even small amounts can help. For African-American children, the impact is even more pronounced, according to researchers at Furman University, in Greenville, SC who found that exercise can also help sharpen a child's cognitive ability.
In their study, published in the Journal Of Physical Activity & Health last month, elementary and middle school children who participated in 45 minutes of daily physical education were shown to have significantly greater improvements on cognitive tests than children who did not participate. The kids who exercised more also outperformed their peers on fitness and body composition tests.
A similar study from Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, found that students who engaged in recess programs called Playworks were not only less likely to bully their peers but took 27 percent less time to transition from recess to classroom learning than those who didn't participate. In addition, just last week, researchers from The University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga and some 16 countries around the world reported more than 5.3 million deaths might be avoided each year if all inactive people began exercising.
But although the case for physical activity is mounting, not everyone is following through. A recent study of American physical education policy revealed that just six states are holding firm to the National Association of Sport and Physical Education’s recommended two and a half hours per week of phys ed in elementary school, HuffPost Parents reports.
What activities can you do as a family to stay fit?
Improved Attention And Focus
A small study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that kids with ADHD were <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18725656?ordinalpos=6&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum" target="_hplink">able to concentrate better after a 20-minute walk in a park</a> rather than a walk through city or neighborhood streets. "What this particular study tells us is that <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/a-dose-of-nature-for-attention-problems/" target="_hplink">the physical environment matters</a>," Frances E. Kuo, director of the university's Landscape and Human Health Laboratory and one of the study's co-authors told <em>The New York Times</em>. "We don't know what it is about the park, exactly -- the greenness or lack of buildings -- that seems to improve attention." <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/quacktaculous/3143079032/" target="_hplink">quacktaculous</a></em>
Greater Likelihood To Keep Exercising
While every little bit of exercise counts, let's be honest: most of us could probably afford to do a little bit <em>more</em>. The <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html" target="_hplink">2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans</a> recommend the average adult get two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio every week, plus two or more sessions of strength training. It's all too easy to skimp on workouts. However, a 2011 survey found that exercising outdoors is a reinforcing behavior -- the study found that outdoor exercisers "declared a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21291246" target="_hplink">greater intent to repeat the activity</a> at a later date" than gym-goers.
Lower Risk Of Being Overweight
The fresh air, the sunlight, the scenery, the open space -- there's a lot about being outside that can inspire more activity, especially when contrasted to the beckoning couches and screens of indoor spaces. And the extra movement adds up. A 2008 study found that rates of overweight among children who spent more time outside were <a href="http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n11/full/ijo2008171a.html" target="_hplink">27 to 41 percent lower than in kids who spent more time indoors</a>.
Exercise itself is sure to reinvigorate you when you're feeling sluggish, but fresh air can up the effect. A 2009 study from the University of Rochester found that <a href="http://www.intrinsicmotivation.net/SDT/documents/2010_RyanWeinstenEtAl_JEVP.pdf" target="_hplink">just 20 minutes outside</a> can rev you up <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/7803320/20-minutes-outdoors-as-good-as-cup-of-coffee.html" target="_hplink">as much as a cup of coffee</a>, <em>The Telegraph</em> reported. "Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but this suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature," lead author <a href="http://www.psych.rochester.edu/faculty/ryan/" target="_hplink">Richard M. Ryan, Ph.D.</a>, a professor of psychology at the university told the publication. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/galant/688642298/" target="_hplink">thebittenword.com</a></em>
Faster Healing And Less Pain
A 2005 study of spinal surgery patients found that patients staying on the sunny side of the hospital reported <a href="http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/67/1/156.abstract" target="_hplink">less pain, less stress and needed less medication</a> for pain than patients housed on the shady side of the building. Of course, recovering from a surgery will temporarily put a damper on most fitness plans, but if sunlight is the key ingredient, an outdoor workout may just boast some of the same benefits for more minor injuries.
Higher Vitamin D Levels
Taking your workout outside is a great (and free!) way to soak up some additional vitamin D. A 2011 study that found vigorous exercisers had higher levels of vitamin suggested that <a href="http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/exercise/story/2011-10-04/Vigorous-exercise-boosts-vitamin-D-while-lowering-heart-risk/50660716/1" target="_hplink">outdoor exercise may be the reason why</a>, <em>USA Today</em> reported. It may be especially helpful for people with a few pounds to lose, according to Everyday Health, since overweight people are almost <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/outdoor-exercise-benefits.aspx" target="_hplink">twice as likely to not get enough vitamin D</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/4775285017/" target="_hplink">Wonderlane</a></em>