Anyone who's seen kids on a playground knows that most are naturally physically
active and love to move around. But what might not be apparent is that climbing to
the top of a slide or swinging from the monkey bars can help lead kids to a lifetime
of being active.
As they get older, it can be a challenge for kids to get enough daily activity.
This can be due to:
increasing demands at school
a feeling among some kids that they aren't good at sports
a lack of active role models
busy working families
And even if kids have the time and the desire to be active, parents may not feel
comfortable letting them freely roam the neighborhood as kids did generations ago.
So their opportunities to be active might be limited.
In spite of these barriers, parents can teach a love of physical activity and help
kids fit it into their everyday lives. Doing so can set healthy patterns that will
last into adulthood.
Benefits of Being Active
When kids are active, their bodies can do the things they want and need them to
do. Why? Because regular exercise provides these benefits:
strong muscles and bones
decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
a better outlook on life
Physically active kids also are more likely to be motivated, focused, and successful
in school. And mastering physical skills builds confidence at every age.
What Motivates Kids?
So there's a lot to gain from regular physical activity, but how do you encourage
kids to do it? The three keys are:
Choosing the right activities for a child's age: If you don't,
the child may be bored or frustrated.
Giving kids plenty of opportunity to be active: Kids need parents
to make activity easy by providing equipment, signing them up for classes or sports
teams, and taking them to playgrounds and other active spots.
Keeping the focus on fun: Kids won't do something they don't
When kids enjoy an activity, they want to do more of it. Practicing a skill —
whether it's swimming or riding a tricycle — improves their abilities and helps
them feel accomplished, especially when the effort is noticed and praised. These good
feelings often make kids want to continue the activity and even try others.
The best way for kids to get physical activity is by incorporating physical activity
into their daily routine. Toddlers and preschoolers
should play actively several times a day. Children 6 to 17 years should do 60 minutes
or more physical activity daily. This can include free play at home, active time at
school, and participation in classes or organized sports.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers need play and exercise that helps them
continue to develop important motor skills — kicking or throwing a ball, playing
tag or follow the leader, hopping on one foot, riding a trike or bike with training
wheels, or running obstacle courses.
Although some sports leagues may be open to kids as young as 4, organized team
sports are not recommended until they're a little older. Preschoolers can't understand
complex rules and often lack the attention span, skills, and coordination needed to
play sports. Instead of playing on a team, they can work on fundamental skills.
School-age: With school-age kids spending more time in front of
screens, the challenge for parents is to help them find physical activities they enjoy
and feel successful doing. These can range from traditional sports like baseball and
basketball to martial arts, biking, hiking, and playing outside.
As kids learn basic skills and simple rules in the early school-age years, there
might only be a few athletic standouts. As kids get older, differences in ability
and personality become more apparent. Commitment and interest level often go along
with ability, which is why it's important to find an activity that's right for your
child. Schedules start getting busy during these years, but don't forget to set aside
some time for free play.
Teens: Teens have many choices when it comes to being active —
from school sports to after-school interests, such as yoga or skateboarding. It's
a good idea to have an exercise plan since it often has to be sandwiched between school
and other commitments.
Do what you can to make it easy for your teen to exercise by providing transportation
and the necessary gear or equipment (including workout clothes). In some cases, the
right clothes and shoes might help a shy teen feel comfortable biking or going to
Kids' Fitness Personalities
In addition to a child's age, it's important to consider his or her fitness personality.
Personality traits, genetics, and athletic ability combine to influence kids' attitudes
toward participation in sports and other physical activities, particularly as they
Which of these three types best describes your child?
1. The nonathlete: This child may lack athletic ability, interest
in physical activity, or both.
2. The casual athlete: This child is interested in being active
but isn't a star player and is at risk of getting discouraged in a competitive athletic
3. The athlete: This child has athletic ability, is committed
to a sport or activity, and likely to ramp up practice time and intensity of competition.
If you understand the concepts of temperament and fitness types, you'll be better
able to help your kids find the right activities and get enough exercise — and
find enjoyment in physical activity. Some kids want to pursue excellence in a sport,
while others may be perfectly happy and fit as casual participants.
The athlete, for instance, will want to be on the basketball team, while the casual
athlete may just enjoy shooting hoops at the playground or in the driveway. The nonathlete
is likely to need a parent's help and encouragement to get and stay physically active.
That's why it's important to encourage kids to remain active even through they aren't
Whatever their fitness personality, all kids can be physically fit. A parent's
positive attitude will help a child who's reluctant to exercise.
Be active yourself and support your kids' interests. If you start this early enough,
they'll come to regard activity as a normal — and fun — part of your family's