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The Benefits of Play, Part 2: Physical

Play is an essential part of human life, and our most important goal at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota Play is not just about having fun or enjoying oneself–though that’s probably our favorite part–it also has a range of benefits. We often talk about those benefits loosely, so we decided to dive deep into all the many ways play impacts our betterment. This second installment is all about the physical benefits.

This three-part series includes social-emotional benefits, physical benefits, and cognitive benefits, one each month this first quarter. The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota commits to being a resource for families and the community in all things PLAY

WHAT ARE PHYSICAL BENEFITS? 

Physical activity is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle, and play is an excellent way to incorporate physical activity into children’s (and adults’!) daily routines. Physical play can take many different forms, from team sports to individual activities, and it can be tailored to suit a range of ages, abilities, and interests. No matter how children participate, the benefits are largely similar and include:

  1. Motor development: Play is essential for young children to develop their motor skills, including gross motor skills, such as running, jumping, and throwing, and fine motor skills, such as drawing and manipulating small objects. Through play, children can practice and refine these skills, which are crucial for their physical development, through experimentation and trial-and-error. 
  2. Bone development: Play also plays a vital role in bone development in young children. During childhood and adolescence, bones grow and develop rapidly, and physical activity through play can help to promote healthy bone development, making them stronger and more resistant to fractures.
  3. Improved cardiovascular health: Engaging in physical activity through play can increase heart rate and strengthen the heart muscle, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. When children engage in physical activity, their cardiovascular system gets a workout, which can improve their energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue. This can help children to be more active throughout the day and may improve their performance in school and other activities.
  4. Improved muscle strength and endurance: Activities such as climbing, throwing, and pushing require the use of various muscle groups and can help to build muscle and improve overall strength. Play can also help to improve endurance by increasing the body’s ability to sustain physical activity over a more extended period.
  5. Improved body composition: Regular physical activity through play can help to burn calories, increase metabolism, and reduce body fat. 
  6. Reduced stress and anxiety: Engaging in play can help to promote the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosting chemicals, reducing stress and anxiety. While this was covered in the emotional needs section, we also see the physical manifestations of stress in children’s bodies, so it bears repeating in the physical section. 
  7. Improved sleep: Physical activity can also help to improve the quality of sleep in children. Regular exercise can help to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, making it easier for children to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.

improving physical health through play

It’s important to note that play doesn’t have to be structured or organized to be beneficial. Unstructured play, such as free play or spontaneous play, can be just as helpful as organized play. Unstructured play provides an opportunity for creativity and imagination, and it allows individuals to engage in activities that they enjoy.

WHAT CAN CAREGIVERS DO? 

Parents and caregivers should encourage and facilitate playtime for young children, providing them with opportunities to engage in physical activities, imaginative play, and social interactions with others. There are many ways for young children to engage in physical play. Here are some of the best ways for young children to get active and have fun:

  1. Outdoor play: Outdoor play is an excellent way for young children to get active and engage in physical activity. Playing on playground equipment, riding bikes or scooters, and playing games like tag, hide and seek, or catch can all help young children get moving and develop their gross motor skills.
  2. Sports: Sports like soccer, basketball, or t-ball can be a fun way for young children to engage in physical activity, develop their coordination and teamwork skills, and make new friends.
  3. Dance: Dancing is a great way for young children to get active and have fun. Dancing promotes gross motor skills, coordination, balance, and creativity, and can be a fun activity to do alone or with others.
  4. Active games: There are many active games that young children can play, such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Duck, Duck, Grey Duck. These games can be played indoors or outdoors and help to develop coordination, balance, and listening skills.
  5. Imaginative play: Imaginative play is another great way for young children to engage in physical activity. Activities like dress-up, building forts, or pretending to be animals can all help to develop gross motor skills, coordination, and creativity.

imaginative play for improving physical health

It’s essential to remember that young children learn through play, so it’s important to make physical play fun and engaging for them. Parents and caregivers can encourage young children to engage in physical play by participating in activities with them, providing them with opportunities to explore and move around, and creating a safe and supportive environment for them to play in.

Helping children learn and grow in this area is so important. Our bodies’ physical needs continue our whole lives, and the more practice we get, the better! Come back next month for the last post in the series to learn about the cognitive benefits of play! 

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