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Kids and Exercise
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym, running on a treadmill, or lifting weights.
But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes, or when playing tag.
The Many Benefits of Exercise
Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. Kids who are active will:
- have stronger muscles and bones
- have a leaner body
- be less likely to become overweight
- decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
- have a better outlook on life
Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better. They're also better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
The Three Elements of Fitness
If you've ever watched kids on a playground, you've seen the three elements of fitness in action when they:
- run away from the kid who's "it" (endurance)
- cross the monkey bars (strength)
- bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility)
Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements.
Endurance develops when kids regularly get aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for extended periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body's ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Aerobic activities include:
Improving strength doesn't have to mean lifting weights. Instead, kids can do push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises to help tone and strengthen muscles. They also improve their strength when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids get chances every day to stretch when they reach for a toy, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
The Sedentary Problem
Being overweight or obese in childhood has become a serious problem. Many things add to this epidemic, but a big part of it is that kids are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they're sitting around a lot more than they used to.
Kids and teens now spend hours every day in front of a screen (TVs, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) looking at a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). Too much screen time and not enough physical activity add to the problem of childhood obesity.
One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or other screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends parents:
- Put limits on the time spent using media, which includes TV, social media, and video games. Media should not take the place of getting enough sleep and being active.
- Limit screen time to 1 hour a day or less for children 2 to 5 years old.
- Discourage any screen time, except video-chatting, for kids younger than 18 months.
- Choose high-quality programming and watch it with your kids to help them understand what they're seeing.
- Keep TVs, computers, and video games out of children's bedrooms and turn off screens during mealtimes.
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
Parents should make sure that their kids get enough exercise. So, how much is enough? Kids and teens should get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) offers these activity guidelines for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:
Minimum Daily Activity
No specific requirements
Physical activity should encourage motor development
30 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
60 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
1 hour or more
Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more
Infants and young children should not be inactive for long periods of time — no more than 1 hour unless they're sleeping. And school-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
Raising Fit Kids
Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some tips for raising fit kids:
- Help your kids participate in a variety of age-appropriate activities.
- Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
- Make being active a part of daily life, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, so you'll be a positive role model for your family.
- Keep it fun, so your kids will come back for more.
- Motivating Kids to Be Active
- How Can Families Be Healthier?
- Raising a Fit Preschooler
- Motivating Preschoolers to Be Active
- Motivating School-Age Kids to Be Active
- Playground Safety
- Home and Away: How to Keep Toddlers Active
- Toddlers: Learning by Playing
- Fitness for Kids Who Don't Like Sports
- Cold-Weather Sports and Your Family
- How Can I Get My Kids to Be Active Outdoors?
- Strength Training and Your Child
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Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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