According to a recent study, girls ages 6-11 years old are at higher risk of obesity if they possess poorer motor skills -- more so than boys the same age with similarly low skills.
My children spend a great deal of time playing outside. I have always encouraged it, although they rarely need much coaxing.
Running, bicycling, playing tag, kicking the soccer ball, pretending to be wild horses, climbing atop the hill of topsoil for our garden, building a fort out of my husband's lumber scraps -- my daughters and son can play just about anything they can imagine outside, and expend a lot more energy doing it than they have room to do inside.
Plus, especially as they grow older, their time playing outside affords me some "me" time.
I don't consciously think of the health benefits they're acquiring through their physical play, although intuitively I know that their growing bodies need all that running, jumping, climbing, and dancing to stay healthy and strong. I am also a big believer in the importance of children being in touch with nature.
Turns out, my daughters are definitely benefiting from all their physical play -- more so than my son, though I'm certain he's benefiting, too. According to an United Kingdom-American study recognized recently by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, girls ages 6-11 years old are at higher risk of obesity if they possess poorer motor skills -- more so than boys the same age with similarly low skills.
In fact, obesity doesn't appear to be a correlation with motor skills in boys regardless of their skill level.
But for girls, mastery of fundamental movement skills definitely does have a connection. Girls the same age with better skills were are lower risk of obesity.
Previous research has shown that elementary-aged children with a higher body mass index are more likely to have poorer motor skills. This new study shows that the vice versa is also true, though it is quite gender-specific.
Researchers feel the results point to a greater need for attention on physical education among girls, as well as follow-up studies on whether developmental delays might play a part in the ability to acquire motor skills that are associated with lower obesity risk.
While the role of gender is surprising to me, the idea that lower motor skills is linked with higher obesity rates is not. Not including developmental delays, motor skills naturally unfold from physical play, and society today doesn't lend much opportunity to many children for that physical play time. For many families, screen time fills the child's free time. For older children, it may be homework or other low-movement activities. For some families, playtime may be a safety concern depending on their neighborhood or simply an issue with sheer busyness.
For me, it's hardest to fit in physical play time in the winter. It's just so cold! Outside time is much less tempting to my children -- and myself -- but our home doesn't have enough space to afford physical play inside. And by the time my children get home from school and done with their chores and homework, there's only a little light left in the day.
But I try to fit in at least an hour for outside play every afternoon, often reserving homework time for after sunset. A little fresh air and physical activity can help with doing homework, anyway.
I have found it's by far easier to encourage physical play in my children if screen time is negligent and if I am, or my husband is, willing to join in. Children learn the most from what is modeled to them, and this holds true for physical activity and other healthy habits, too.
Above all, ensuring children have access to physical play and the opportunity to develop motor skills has to be intentional. We parents have to take the time to make it priority, with each of our children but, according to this latest study, especially with our daughters.
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