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The Benefits of Playground Exercise for Kids
Fitness training can be broken down into components such as strength, power, muscular endurance, aerobic fitness, balance and flexibility. The traditional approach to training is to complete separate programs that focus on each of these, independently of one another. Weights are used to develop strength, while jump training is used for power development. Running exercises develop aerobic fitness and floor work exercises improve balance and flexibility. The new era of training uses a circuit training approach, whereby all fitness components can be trained within the same workout with little to no rest between exercises.
When parents approach me about developing their kids' fitness components, I often suggest to them to use the circuit training approach by taking their kids to a playground as often as possible. This will improve their overall fitness and a whole lot more.
The benefits of playground workouts, after the jump...
The benefits of taking your kids to the park and playground are often understated. In a research paper called The Benefits of Playgrounds funded by the Shasta Children and Families First Commission (SCFFC), researchers noted that playgrounds provide crucial and vital opportunities for children to accelerate emotional, social, motor and cognitive development.
A clear distinction was made between free play and organized play in the realm of brain development. Research on brain development shows that the most crucial time for a child's development is in the earliest years. Children who do not get the crucial interaction obtained through free play in their first six years will face a lifetime of limited brain power.
From a fitness perspective, swinging on the monkey bars strengthens and builds muscle endurance for the entire upper body. Running up the stairs repeatedly to go down all the slides over and over again builds strength and endurance in the lower body. Running through tires, swinging on the swings, climbing rope walls and playing on see-saws all help develop balance and flexibility.
Playground Ideas for the Little Ones
Something I've done with all of my kids at a playground is set up an imaginary obstacle course. I pretend to time how long it takes them to complete the course. I tell them to try and beat their time in each successive turn. It's fun and challenging for them and keeps them occupied and active for at least 30 - 40 minutes. Their heart rates go up, their legs get tired, their arms and shoulders get a workout and their brains are challenged to remember all the steps of the obstacle course. In the playground where I take my kids, here's an example of an obstacle course that I tell them to do:
1. Run around the playground once.
2. Go up the stairs and slide down the big slide.
3. Go back up the stairs and run across the mats to the monkey bars.
4. Go across the monkey bars and jump down.
5. Climb up the rope wall and go down the small slide.
6. Run to the swings and get as high as possible within 10 swings.
7. Run around the playground again.
Be creative and very supportive with this type of playtime. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see the smiles on your kids' sweaty faces.
Before you hit the playground with your kids, check out this post on Playground Safety 101.
Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids, a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels.