Pass a park or field on a Saturday in America, and you’ll likely see this scene: Kids running around — playing soccer, baseball or some such — while adults line the sidelines, backsides firmly planted in chairs. And this is after most of us spent the bulk of the week sitting at desks, in cars and on couches.
Problem is: Our bodies were designed to move, at every age—from newborn to elder. Being sedentary — at any age — leads to all kinds of troubles, including stiff joints, heart disease, bone and muscle deterioration, and cognitive decline.
Here are some unique benefits exercise grants us at various stages of life.
Tummy Time is Key for Infants
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving babies daily tummy time to build muscles in their neck, back and shoulders. Babies also develop muscle tone as they kick their legs, grab objects and engage with the people around them.
Exercise Builds Bone Density in Children
If you picture bone density like a bank, about 90 percent of deposits are made by the time we’re 18 (for girls) and 20 (for boys). All weight-bearing activity — walking, running, jumping and the like — can be considered a deposit. And any childhood movement — weight-bearing or not — develops muscle memory and healthy habits that can be drawn on in adulthood. What’s more, some research — such as a study published in Frontiers in Physiology — hints that activity in childhood can program your body to better metabolize calories and fat intake later in life.
Activity Reduces Depression Symptoms in Teens
Beyond the obvious physical benefits, exercise can counteract the tendencies toward anxiety, depression, stress and low self-confidence that plague many teens. For example, a study published in Depression Research and Treatment found that as teens’ aerobic activity increased, the severity of their depression symptoms decreased. Also, some evidence, including a Chinese study examining cancer prevention, suggests that physical activity during adolescence can reduce cancer risk later in life.
Fitness Delays Declines in Muscle Mass in Adults
Your early adult years are filled with many peaks — as mentioned before, your bone density peaks as soon as you hit adulthood; your brain peaks in your early to mid-20s; and your muscle mass peaks in your mid- to late-20s — which means decline is inevitable during the rest of your adult years. Study after study, however, attests that regular exercise can substantially delay and minimize that decline. It can also prevent the metabolic and cardiovascular diseases that prematurely claim the lives of many Americans. Another consideration for adults is the power they have to influence younger generations. Kids whose parents are active are much more likely to be active themselves, research shows. And that influence may start as early as the womb: A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that infants whose mothers exercised tended to hit physical activity milestones sooner.
Exercise Helps Prevent Cognitive Decline for Seniors
Exercise can stave off dementia and other cognitive decline, improve balance and stability, and increase the quality of life for the elderly. It can allow seniors to stay independent longer and enable them to better engage with the people they love — which is what many people in their golden years realize really matters most.