Fitness for Kids
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.
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:
- Endurance (Stamina)
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.
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.
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.
It’s never too soon to encourage a love of physical activity in kids by exposing them to fun fitness activities and sports. Doctors say that participating in different activities develops motor skills and muscles and reduces the risk of developing overuse injuries.
It’s recommended by experts that children get at least one hour of exercise every day. This may seem like a lot, but it’s easy to see how the minutes can add up when you consider all of the runnings and playing an active child does on a daily basis.
Here are some guidelines to help you choose age-appropriate fitness activities for your kids:
Age 5 and Younger
Preschoolers can play team sports like soccer, basketball, or T–ball as long as your expectations are realistic. Any sport at this age should be about play, not competition.
Preschoolers tend to love water. It’s fine to introduce kids to water safety between 6 months and 3 years old.
Leading water safety and instruction organization, recommends that preschoolers and their parents first enroll in a basic course. These usually teach blowing bubbles and underwater exploration before starting formal swimming lessons. Children are ready to learn breath control, floating, and basic strokes at about age 4 or 5.
Ages 6 to 8
Now is the time to expose children to diverse athletic and fitness-related activities.
Kids this age need physical activity to build strength, coordination, and confidence — and to lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. They’re also gaining more control over how active they are.
School-age kids should have many chances to participate in a variety of activities, sports, and games that fit for their personality, ability, age, and interests. Brainstorm with your kids on activities that feel right. Most kids won’t mind a daily dose of fitness as long as it’s fun.
Different sports stress growth plates differently, and the variety helps ensure healthy overall development. Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and heel pain in soccer players, are increasingly common and happen when kids play the same sports season after season.
Ages 9 to 11
Eye-hand coordination really kicks in at this point.
It’s okay to encourage competition, as long as you don’t put all the focus on winning. If children are interested in participating in events such as short triathlons or distance running races, these are safe as long as children have trained for the event and maintain healthy hydration.
Ages 12 to 14
Kids may lose interest in the structured environment of organized sports as they reach adolescence. They may wish to focus instead on strength- or muscle-building exercises. Unless your child has entered puberty, discourage lifting heavy weights.
Encourage healthier options, such as stretchy tubes and bands, as well as body-weight exercises like squats and push-ups. These develop strength without putting bones and joints in danger. Prepubescent kids should never attempt a one-rep max in the weight room.
Children are at the biggest risk of injury during periods of growth spurts, such as those experienced during the early teenage years. A child who lifts too much weight or uses incorrect form when throwing or running can break bones.
Age 15 and Older
Once your teen has gone through puberty and is ready to lift weights, urge them to take a weight-training class or a few sessions with an expert. Poor form can harm muscles and cause fractures.
If your high schooler expresses interest in endurance events like triathlons or marathons, there’s no reason to say no. Just keep an eye on nutrition and hydration, and learn to recognize the signs of heat-related illness. Remember that proper training is just as important for teens as it is for their parents. Many races have minimum age requirements.
Building a healthy foundation is important for raising children into healthy adults. Children are naturally active and encouraging this with fitness guidance will create lasting habits.
Fitness at Home
Here are some ways to keep your kids moving at home:
Make physical activity part of the daily routine. From household chores to an after-dinner walk, keep your family active every day.
Allow enough time for free play. Kids can burn more calories and have more fun when left to their own devices. Playing tag, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and building snowmen are fun and healthy.
Keep a variety of games and sports equipment on hand. It doesn’t have to be expensive — an assortment of balls, hula-hoops, and jump ropes can keep kids busy for hours.
Be active together. It’ll get you moving, and kids love to play with their parents.
Limit time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching TV, being online, and playing video games and games apps.
If you run out of possibilities at home, take advantage of local playgrounds and athletic fields. Make family fitness outings part of your regular routine. Let family members choose an activity — go hiking, or try out the rock-climbing gym. Anything goes, as long as everyone can participate.
And remember: You’ll help show your kids that exercise is important by regularly exercising yourself.
Through physical activities, kids learn about sportsmanship, setting goals, meeting challenges, teamwork, and the value of practice.