It is now official: exercise in childhood determines the health of the individual as an adult. For a long time, scientists and parents alike have known that children who are physically active can effectively combat and counter the effects of harmful lifestyle conditions like obesity. Study findings recently released by British experts have indicated that a number of grown-ups risk their health by failing to adequately exercise. In fact, the study noted that about 6 million of adults in Britain take less than 10 minutes of active exercise on a daily basis. This is appalling, the study noted, considering the myriad diseases that the individual stands being exposed to due to lack of exercise. What was even more shocking from the research was the finding that many parents have ignored the government’s advice to expose their children to at least one hour of moderate to intense exercise daily. The price for this has been steep. Up to 20% of children in Britain aged between 10 and 16 years are obese.
The dissertation research made comparative studies of the relationship between exercise and metabolic related conditions in children. Data for the exercise was drawn from research samples targeting 38 nations. The most fundamental discovery that the experts arrived at was the fact that societies that did not engage their children in physical exercises tended to grapple more with the problem of obesity. A notable case was that of Britain, where only 20% of boys and 15% of girls in the sample age bracket had done the recommended amounts of exercise. Considering this low percentage, it is no wonder that of the 38 nations, England, Wales and Scotland were actually at the bottom of the list. Other nations that did not do so well included Slovenia and Venezuela. All these nations had one thing in common: exercise among children was not taken as a priority, and as such, many children did not receive adequate exercise on a daily basis.
On the other hand, nations that had prioritized exercise in children tell a different story altogether. Sweden and Denmark, for example, have for long shown a keen interest in the connection between exercises in childhood and its impact on the individual’s health, later in life. Research based on how these countries have handled this issue has been eye opening. One such research looked into the impact of exercise on about 1.2 million Swedish men who joined the military at the age of 18. The researchers traced their lives through the military and later in life and made a stunning discovery: the men who had done more exercises as children and later as adolescents reported fewer incidences of metabolic and cardiovascular conditions in middle age. Additionally, those who had taken part in routine, intense exercises as adolescents became more successful in the military. On the other hand, those who had not exercised as much were predisposed to suffer from life-threatening conditions by the time they hit middle age.
Once the obvious connection between exercise in childhood and good health was established, scientists the world over have had to grapple with one final question: what is the reason for this link? There are a number of explanations for this:
- Childhood Habits Are Carried on to Adulthood
Professor Ted Garland, a lead researcher and expert in Biology at the University of California, is convinced that our habits as children have uncanny ways of finding their way into our lives as adults. This applies to exercise, as it does to all habits. A child who spends time taking part in regular exercises is likely to take up exercise as a grown-up. According to Prof. Garland, the most likely explanation is the “feel good’’ effect that exercise has on the individual. Exercise helps the body release the “feel good’’ neurotransmitters sorotin and dopamine, which act as a motivator for the individual to exercise. As one grows from childhood to adulthood, they are unlikely to let go of the one thing that gives them that feeling each time: regular exercise.
- Exercise Leads to the Development of the Brain
Professor Charles Hillman, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, has conducted studies that have shown that physical exercise is good for the development of the structure and functions of the brain. He has proved that fitness in childhood and teenage hood impacts positively in the formation of prefrontal cortex, and the development of specialized regions like the hippocampus, which deals with memory.
Professor Hillman contends that exercise creates a demand for metabolism, and that the body responds to this by building more capillaries to transport oxygen and blood to the different parts of the brain and body. Exercise further necessitates the increase in the formation of synapses – various parts of the brain are thus able to communicate with each other more efficiently. What all this translates to is that exercise enables the individual to develop their brain faculties better. In short, individuals who routinely exercise are likely to make better judgments that are based more on reason and purpose and not on impulse.
MRI scans to the brain have enabled scientists to arrive at another conclusion. The scan depicts the flow of blood in the brain, with the resultant effect of making the neurons healthier and stronger. From this, scientists have been able to deduce that some senior citizens who reported zero incidences of Alzheimer’s disease had the exercise regimes they had adopted from early on in life to thank for.
- “Memory’’ Stored in Bones
An interesting finding from a research done by Professor Elwyn Firth is the fact that the bones of our bodies have the ability to retain a “memory’’ from exercise that is done early on in life. Amazingly, this memory enables the individual to continue enjoying the benefits associated with exercise, even when the individual leads a sedentary lifestyle, and no longer exercises as regularly as they used to. Professor Firth, an expert on exercise science, notes that youngsters who exercise regularly develop bone density, mineral content and mass that is quite different from those of children who fail to follow the recommended exercise pattern. This is beneficial in many ways. For example, individuals who start their exercise regime before the onset of puberty suffer less cases of osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes and other such bone and inflammatory related conditions.
- Benefits from the Mother
Prof. Ted Garland found compelling evidence that an unborn child can get life-long health benefits from a mother who regularly takes part in exercises. The fact that the fetus and the mother share the same circulation allows the exchange of changes to take place. These changes are responsible for all kinds of biological functions, including oxygen carrying capacity and muscle functions. The research found out that children born of mothers who value exercise are likely to take up regular exercise as a life-long habit.
The world over, scientists are working to encourage the uptake of physical exercise. They are determined to emphasize the life-long benefits of exercise, especially if it is begun before the onset of puberty. It is now widely accepted that this is a key component of good health.