How Much Exercise do Kids Need?
In order to be healthy kids must get plenty of daily exercise, but sometimes, parents aren't sure just how much activity their children need for optimal health and fitness. Recommendations vary by age, but kids should never remain inactive for long; children should be encouraged to keep moving for most of their waking hours.
Benefits of Exercise for KidsAdults often think of exercise as "working out,” -- something that they do to stay healthy and maintain a desirable weight -- but for children, exercise is often a part of their everyday play, with the focus on active fun rather than fitness. For kids, fit, healthy bodies may not be their goal, but when they eat right and stay active, they will benefit just the same. Regular activity helps kids to:
- Keep their weight within a healthy range
- Build lean muscle and lower their body fat percentage
- Increase strength and stamina
- Lower their risk of developing diabetes
- Keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check
- Build strong bones
- Manage stress and decrease anxiety and depression
- Improve confidence
- Develop a positive body image
- Sleep soundly, improving daytime focus and attention span
Types of FitnessA truly fit child (or adult) is more than lean. Complete fitness includes several elements beyond weight management, including:
Strength: Strength comes from challenging muscles to perform at increasingly difficult levels. Strength building activities include climbing, pushing, pulling, and lifting, as well as traditional calisthenics such as push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, and lunges.
Endurance: The ability to sustain activity for prolonged periods of time is an important factor in fitness, indicating not only strong muscles, but a healthy cardiovascular system, as well. Aerobic exercises include (but are in no way limited to) walking, running, bicycling, and swimming. Aerobic fitness is vital for both short and long term robust health and vitality.
Flexibility: The ability of muscles to perform a full range of motion depends on flexibility. Bending, stretching, and reaching all improve flexibility, important for comfortable ease of movement.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need?It is recommended that all children aged two and over get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day of the week, with 90 minutes preferred. Ideally, kids should supplement that exercise time with more moderate activity at various times throughout their day. Unfortunately, many kids today get far less than even the baseline amount of daily exercise, instead spending many of their leisure hours in front of a television or computer. Many kids who cite lack of time as a reason that they don't get more exercise spend several hours every day engaged in these sedentary activities -- clearly, it is more a matter of bad habits as opposed to a truly overloaded schedule that accounts for this shortage of physical activity. Parents need to encourage (and insist upon, if necessary) active play in the lives of their children in order to help them to remain healthy and develop strong, fit bodies.
Incorporating Activity into Kids' LivesEnrolling kids in exercise classes, sports teams, and play groups can help them to meet their daily exercise needs, but it is important for children to remain active between those organised activities, too. It is recommended that young children not remain inactive for any longer than 60 consecutive minutes, and older kids and teens need to be up and around at least every two hours. Obviously, this means that even during school hours, children need to be afforded opportunities to stretch, walk, run, and play a number of times throughout the day. Since many schools do not currently prioritise activity and fitness for children, parents need to actively petition their children's schools to incorporate time for activity into their daily routines.
Outside of school, kids should be encouraged to walk or ride their bikes to most of their daily activities whenever possible. Additionally, children can take on active roles in helping around the house -- cleaning, doing yard work, walking and caring for pets, and washing the family car -- benefiting not only their health and fitness, but helping them to develop a sense of responsibility as well. Parents should choose toys that encourage active play when buying gifts for their kids; bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, and sporting equipment are all good choices. Finally, kids learn from the examples set by their parents. Adults who hope to raise fit, healthy kids need to play actively with their children and include physical exercise into their own lives, as well.