The Importance of an Active Life
Over the past decade, the fact that young people need to stay active has been well documented in scores of books, scientific journals, health and wellness websites and parenting blogs. It’s now common knowledge that regular exercise helps in the fight against obesity, which can stave off a number of serious health conditions later in life, such as hypertension, cardiac disease, liver problems, kidney problems and diabetes. Experts have found that regular exercise improves cognition function, which leads to better grades, which ultimately lead to increased high school graduation rates and an increased likelihood to attend college or a trade/technical school, which in turn leads to higher average income levels during adulthood. The experts have also determined that regular exercise is a great way to combat depression, anxiety and stress. All of these benefits combined—the health benefits, the mental benefits and the financial benefits—ultimately mean that the habit of getting regular exercise, if begun early on, can be a significant contributing factor to leading a healthy, happy and stable life.
Thanks to nationwide initiatives like former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” and the NFL’s “Play60,” most school administrators, teachers and parents know the facts and do a good job keeping kids active both at school and at home. Young kids get playground time and older kids get involved in active extracurricular activities or sports. However, there’s a disconnect in this approach that’s rarely discussed: what happens when kids grow up? Only a small percentage of kids will end up as college athletes, and not everyone is motivated to hit the gym three times a week—so what happens to all that soccer, basketball, and football when kids grow up? How will they fill that void and maintain their chances of leading a healthy, active lifestyle? There’s an answer: life-long sports.
What are Life-Long Sports?
Life-long sports are all the sports that some people think of as recreational activities or hobbies. They’re sports that anyone can practice at any point during their lives—even well into old age—and get the exact same benefit out of them as when they first started them. Most, but not all, life-long sports happen outdoors, in nature. Here’s a list of common life-long sports:
- Running/Jogging: In the 1970s, the running craze swept the U.S. and never really left. Young people often start with track or cross-country, but running mostly “runs” in families. It’s a low-cost (just a pair of running shoes and some shorts), high-yield activity. Though it can wear on the joints after prolonged periods, running on grass or dirt trails is a great way to minimize the impact.
- Walking: For those that aren’t excited about running, walking is a great alternative. A high-energy walk can burn as many calories as a jog or a run, with less impact on the joints. Kids can start learning the benefits of taking walks by doing things like walking the dog or, if possible, doing small errands by foot.
- Cycling: Most kids love riding bikes, but for some reason bicycles tend to get left behind when people graduate from high school and get on with their life. Whether that means working or going to college, many people leave their bikes in childhood, but this does not have to be the case. Cycling is a fun, low-impact alternative to running, and it’s a great way for adults to stay in shape and reconnect with what it feels like to be a kid again, rushing down a hill with the wind blowing through your hair.
- Swimming: Swimming is a great, low impact, full-body activity that has wonderful benefits for the circulatory system. Most kids learn to swim when they’re young, and it’s a skill that’s almost impossible to forget. For adults who don’t mind doing laps at the local YMCA, swimming is perfect.
- Hiking: Hiking combines walking with the great outdoors. Being away from the hustle and bustle of the city is a perfect way to relieve stress—and, if it’s combined with camping, carrying supplies in backpacks will make your whole body strong.
- Mindfulness Activities: Things like yoga and martial arts can be learned young and practiced well into old age. Though some martial arts can be tough on the joints, it’s easy to make the transition to softer things like tai chi when the time comes.
Starting Life-Long Sports Early
The popularity of team sports is a fantastic thing for our youth, and the support given to them by schools and parents is beneficial for their health and well-being and enriches our school communities. At the same time, school administrators, teachers and parents would do our youth a favor if they considered adding school clubs or even organized sports that teach students life-long sports. While running and swimming are fairly well represented in schools across the nation, sports such as cycling, hiking and mindfulness activities like yoga and martial arts are rare. Schools can start hiking or yoga clubs, and parents can get out on bike rides with their kids of any age. There are even a few school districts that include mountain biking as a sport, and track cycling, which is very popular in Europe, is slowly gaining steam in the U.S. Cycling, in particular, can keep participants active and competitive well into their 70s. If taught young, these life sports—running, walking, cycling, swimming, hiking and mindfulness activities—can bring a lifetime of healthy living, and all come with one more added benefit: they’re a whole lot of fun.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.