Is your child doing adequate physical activity? Is it important for your child to be physically active and spend a few hours playing or cycling? Just like you, these are some of the common questions that pop up in the minds of a majority of parents of growing children.

Advancement in technology and better employment opportunities in urban areas have led people to move to cities. To accommodate the increasing population, and meet their need for housing, increased construction of buildings in metropolises have resulted in very little space for parks and grounds, for children to play and swing.

However, many schools do realize the importance of keeping the child physically active for his/her overall development and have made physical education a mandatory subject in their curriculum. Along with this, it is important for you also to inculcate habits among your children to be physically active for their holistic growth and development. 

Staying physically active will keep your child away from obesity (accumulation of excessive body fat) and many other metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes (a chronic condition in which there is excessive glucose (sugar) in your blood)), cancer, and heart diseases linked to a sedentary or inactive lifestyle.  

Benefits of Physical Activity for Your Child

Physical activity helps your child maintain optimal energy balance, reduce stress, shuns unhealthy behaviours such as alcohol consumption, drug, and tobacco use, help him/her become more expressive and independent. It also gives your child an opportunity to bond and interact with his/her peer groups and it is seen that children who are physically fit, excel in academics too.

Recommended Physical Activity Guidelines

  • As per WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines, children and adolescents (aged 5- 17 years) should engage themselves in 60 minutes of moderate to a vigorous intensity level of physical activity daily. 

  • If your child is physically inactive, then you should encourage your child to perform 30 minutes of moderate level of activity daily, and gradually increase the duration, frequency, and intensity.

Since an adequate amount of physical activity requires a lot of energy expenditure, strength, and stamina, as a parent, it is important for you to understand the requirements of your child in terms of diet and food, before and after a moderate or heavy bout of physical activity.

Dietary and Nutrition Tips to Keep Your Child Physically Active

Keep the following points in mind to maximize/promote muscle building and to minimize stress and tiredness due to physical activity, in your child:

1. Avoid giving any food or drink except water, one hour before the child goes out to play. This is because the food may not get digested and can make your child feel dizzy and nauseated. 

However, make sure that your child is not hungry and has an empty stomach. Your child can eat something about 1.5 to 2 hours before going out to play, to avoid fatigue and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels).

2. Keep your child well hydrated. Cycling, running or any form of physical activity involves muscle action leading to heat production. Children sweat less in comparison to adults and thus have a lower capacity to dissipate heat, decreasing the body’s ability to cool itself and increasing the risk of heat-related illness. 

Ensure to give your child a water bottle/sipper that will come in handy before he/she goes out to play.

3. Include foods that are rich in carbohydrates, non-greasy, and are readily digested, such as cereals that include toast with jelly, cornflakes with milk, yogurt, upma, vermicelli, poha, idli, banana, etc. These foods are rich in energy and can provide your child with the stamina to cope with the stress associated with vigorous physical activity.

4. Your child should eat a high carbohydrate food immediately, within 30 minutes after any physical activity to ensure muscle glycogen resynthesis. It may be possible that the child might not feel like eating anything immediately and may find it simpler to rather drink something such as lemon water sweetened with glucose, sweetened lassi, etc. This also works well.

Note that glycogen is an important fuel reserve of your child’s body that maintains blood glucose levels. Glycogen stored in your child’s liver and muscle decreases during physical activity; the longer and more intense the activity, the greater is the reduction of glycogen stores. So, your child should eat a carbohydrate-rich food, immediately after physical activity to replenish his/her glycogen store.

5. Your child can eat protein around one hour before his/her playtime and about 2 to 3 hours after any physical activity. Some protein-rich snacks that you can give your child before exercise/playtime include granola bars, peanut butter popcorn, peanut butter celery sticks, or a bowl of fresh green leafy vegetables. Give your child lean meats, fish, poultry, nuts, beans, eggs, or milk, after he/she is back from play/exercise time.

6. Avoid giving fried food and concentrate more on baked and steamed food. Fat should be given in limited quantities as it delays stomach emptying time and takes longer to digest. Avoid fast food like burgers, candies, sugary drinks or soda, before and after your child’s physical activity routine.

Your child’s diet and nutrition should promote his/her physical, mental, and emotional growth. Consult your paediatrician and nutritionist to know more. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.