Why is exercise good for children?

A Conversation about Physical Health & Education

With her fresh approach to learning, Caroline Ridgway founder of Beau Body Fitness and parent of 2 young girls, talks to us about how she sees “movement” as the main goal for children when thinking about physical health. She gives us insights into what we can do as parents to motivate, inspire, and engage our children at any age, to be physically active. 

Have you always been sporty?

I was never ever sporty, I sucked at every type of sport that involved co-ordination and passing a ball so that ruled out most of PE for me. I went to a state school in the ‘80s and there was only netball, football or cross country. Noticing that running was a solo ‘sport’, I opted to try and excel at this and to my surprise my PE teacher acknowledged that I was fast, perhaps actually good at something sporty! Other than this, I had some ability to move to music, so dance was another thing that I enjoyed, but there was no opportunity to develop this at school. 

When I was 15, I started seeing a boy who worked in a gym, that’s when I got into strength training, I loved it, and I didn’t really stop. It gave me that boost of confidence I so badly needed. As soon as I found my feet in the gym I never stopped. Even so, as an adult I have never thought of myself as sporty. Although, what is yoga? What is running? What is strength training? 

I now appreciate that you can express movement in any way you choose just find your thing and do it!

…so at age 14 if I had told you that you would be running a fitness business when you were older, what would you have said to that?

Excuse me while I daydream! Being totally disillusioned at 14, I’d have been ecstatic to know there was a job waiting for me, in something that I was passionate about.

I was not at all academic and struggled at school. Despite the fact that I listed strength training and a love of being outdoors as my passions, I was encouraged into childcare. I would have pursued a degree in sports or related subject instead. 

As it was, I did have a career devoted to childcare which was wonderful but after 16 years, I followed my heart into the fitness industry and now I have worked in this industry for just over ten years and always wish I had started sooner.

Do your children follow your passion for physical exercise?

My daughter loves nothing more than to do a circuit in the garden, using agility ladders, balls, and hoops. She also does her own yoga sequence and demands we all watch.

Children are natural movers. We need to stop shackling them to desks and car seats as much as possible and let them explore and retain their beautiful movements and postures.

The idea of physical exercise as simply movement is really interesting, how do you encourage your children to be interested in movement?

I try and provide the opportunity for girls to move as much as possible in the day, using upper body strength, standing, and jumping. 

My girls call my home gym ‘your class’ they are always super keen to come in and climb and lift things and I do let them watch me train. I also encourage them to put the 1l milk cartons away (24 at a time!), which is such good, functional, and helpful exercise. Squatting to pick up and again to put away, it’s not light work! 

I tell them “Wow, look at all those muscles you’re using”.

We are always out of the house, twice a day, morning and afternoon. Either in the garden, or in the forest climbing trees and walking over logs. We go the playground especially for the monkey bars! There is literally no excuse to not get outside and move and so many benefits to be doing it. We have two big dogs to accompany us on our rambles which means we do have to get out whatever the weather, get the right clothing, shoes, snacks and you’re all set! It’s a way of life.

Can you share some ideas for motivation that you use in your work?

It’s all about being inspired and about helping to acknowledge how good you feel doing or after doing physical activity. I do this thing with my clients, where I ask them to write down how they are feeling straight after a workout. Usually, they’re feeling positive and pumped and this is what they write down. I encourage them to look at the piece of paper whenever they get that ‘I don’t want to work out’ feeling, it’s an effective tool. In the end it becomes autonomous, they just get straight out there and train. Self-motivation is key.

The other thing is making goals and fitness testing. Doing these things allow you to know what you want to achieve and to see how you have progressed. That’s why it is also important to follow strength training programmes, logging the increase in weights or repetitions, expanding on what you do within them each time you train. 

Having a start point to reflect on is a vital component of getting fitter and stronger. It will become what motivates you. 

And what suggestions do you have for older teens who stop participating in sports at school?

There are so many things that conflict us as teens. It is quite tricky as different things happen. For girls it’s, periods, hormones and weight gain. But we need to think of sport more open ended these days. My children are a lot younger, but this is how I would think about it. 

  1. I think the focus should really be on how movement makes us feel better, and the longevity of how movement benefits us. Although teenagers live in the present so best to focus on the here and now!
  2. The school system and learning often makes us move less and become more studious, so it’s important to be a role model, help them see that a break away from studying to move, actually benefits their academic studies. 
  3. Acknowledging its ok to not love all of it. 
  4. Give them other options. What interested your child as a younger child may or may not float their boat as a teen.
  5. Allow them to see ‘fitness’ as just being active in whatever way they like, even if it’s roller disco or skateboarding everything goes.
  6. Get them to come to the gym with you and show YOU how it’s done. Suggest the park runs – you could do them as a family. Take them climbing, ask them if they want to come to a boxing class, yoga, anything. Use it as bonding time.
  7. And again, try not to pressurise but encourage.

One thing is for certain, there is so much choice out there these days, there will be something for everyone.

Exercise and movement really are nature’s best medicine so, thankfully we don’t all have to be sporty superheroes to benefit from the effect that it brings!

Thank you to Caroline for sharing her professional and parenting wisdom with Level Up Kids . For more inspiration follow @beaubodyfitness on Instagram. Caroline runs a bootcamp and offers personal training sessions, near her home in Virginia Waters. Email her @beaubodyfitness.co.uk .

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