Researchers looking at the lasting effects of early-life exercise on gut microbes, brain health and metabolism say that ‘the immature gut may be more sensitive to environmental influences and provide a "window of opportunity" for better health.’ While this research was undertaken on rats, many studies have established that the fundamental properties of the gut microbiota in rodents is applicable to humans.
Research is also clear that mode of delivery, breast or bottle feeding and early antibiotic use are just some of the factors that determine the early health of the child’s gut microbiota, so this new study adds another dimension to the factors affecting the ninety percent microbial population that makes up our human ‘super organism.’ It confirms that fact that early life exercise is likely to have a much greater impact on the gut microbiota and consequently on long term health than exercise initiated later in life. The study also indicates that childhood exercise may be protective against depressive disorders such as depression and anxiety. Wow - what an opportunity for positive change!
But we all know that kids are doing much less physical exercise than in the past. When once they walked or rode bikes to school - today they catch the bus or take a ride in mum’s SUV. When once they had chores that might include chopping or carting wood, chores now take a back seat to homework or extra-curricular (often indoor) activities. When kids were once told to go outside and play until til dinner time, these days they go to their rooms and play computer games … the story goes on.
Getting your kids to embrace regular exercise begins with you … and that means the sooner you get started on your own exercise program the better. Maybe you’ve both decided to lose some weight and to get fit prior to getting pregnant? Either way you’re set to enjoy the benefits of exercise and of achieving a healthy weight before your pregnancy. Research proves that losing weight can improve fertility and that women who exercise before and during pregnancy experience a better pregnancy and birth, faster recovery and are less likely to suffer postnatal depression.
But there’s more - continuing to exercise after you become a mum or a dad is a wonderful example for your children to follow. Think of all the fun things you can do as a fit and active family! Make sure you do different forms of exercise - muscle-building confers even more benefits than aerobic, also include stretching for flexibility in your weekly schedule. Whatever the activities you choose, make sure you enjoy them otherwise your commitment won’t last long. Start out slowly, walk a few extra blocks to catch the bus, take the stairs instead of the lift, increase the intensity over weeks, not days. A pedometer that tracks “steps taken” can provide real incentive, especially if both you and your partner are on this mission to get fit together. Progress to more adventurous and more vigorous exercise as your muscles (and your mind) become accustomed to the extra activity. You’re on the right path to getting small children off the couch and into the surf or the pool or on the track or the field and towards a lifetime of better health.
More on exercising as a family in Healthy Parents, Healthy Toddler