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Exercise for Children

Why is exercise important?

Most children love to run, jump, climb, and play games. Outdoor activities give kids the chance to use up some of their energy, maintain a healthy weight, develop coordination, and build strength. Being physically active can help children build self-esteem and helps reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Physical activity also helps teach life skills such as teamwork, patience, and setting and achieving goals.

How much exercise does my child need?

Children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. It does not have to be done all at once. Short 10 to 15 minute spurts of activity work well too. If your child is not used to exercising very much, have him or her work up gradually to this level of activity.

Make sure your child does 3 types of physical activity:

  • Aerobic (fast walking, running, swimming) Aerobic exercise works the heart and gets muscles to use more oxygen. It also helps children to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Strengthening (gymnastics, jungle gym, or climbing). Most children don't need a weight-training program to be strong. Children tone and strengthen muscles in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
  • Stretching (yoga, martial arts, cartwheels) Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Children stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.

How can I help my child get more exercise?

  • Be a role model. Children who are part of a family that has fun doing activities together learn to love the feeling of being active. If you have fun exercising your child will notice and want to do it too. However, do not encourage your child to do adult types of exercise that are not right for children such as using a treadmill, stair-stepping, power walking, endurance running, or weight-lifting.
  • Have your child join a team. Encourage your child to get involved in school sports, dance classes, or gymnastics. Basketball and soccer are good sports for even young children to learn. If your school doesn't offer anything, try community resources, such as YMCA or your local parks and recreation district.
  • Try to find an activity your child enjoys. Be sensitive to your child's feelings. If your child feels uncomfortable playing certain sports or exercising in front of a group, try to find something that is more suitable. If the exercise is not fun, your child will not do it.
  • Find a program for your overweight child. If your child has been diagnosed as severely overweight, you can check with your healthcare provider or child's school to see if there is a local exercise group or program that works with overweight kids.
  • Limit "screen time" to 2 hours or less per day. This includes TV, computer, video games, cellphone and iPad apps, and watching DVDs and movies.

What if my child doesn't like team sports?

For children who don't enjoy organized sports or classes, try exercise that can be done alone or with the family. Your child may enjoy:

  • Biking
  • Walking or hiking
  • Jumping rope
  • Skating
  • Swimming
  • Badminton

Do activities as a family. Go out for a walk in the evening. Smaller children enjoy riding or skating alongside their parents as they walk or jog. You could also go out after dinner and play a game of catch, jump rope, or hopscotch. Kids are often more willing and excited to exercise when mom, dad, or older siblings are doing it with them. Try to plan weekends where the whole family joins in doing something active.

Active chores can also get kids moving, such as

  • Raking leaves or mowing the grass
  • Washing the car
  • Sweeping
  • Vacuuming
  • Walking the dog
  • Simple gardening

Other ways to help children move more during the day:

  • Encourage a 5 minute activity break for every 30 minutes of computer or written work.
  • Allow active play before homework.
  • Have a room with lots of space for kids to move around.
  • Turn on dance music instead of the TV.
  • Workout with interactive computer games, such Dance Dance Revolution or Wii Fit.
  • Consider exercise videos just for kids.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-08-03
Last reviewed: 2012-05-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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