Kids and Exercise
For kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or sports 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 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 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.
25 Exercise Games and Indoor Activities to Get Kids Moving
- Headstands: A great activity for your core muscles and to get blood going to the brain
- Jump rope: If you have downstairs neighbors who complain, go in the hall or outside your building. For more fun, pick up a book of jump-rope rhymes.
- Balloon ball: There are endless ways to play with balloons indoors. Try to keep it off the ground or just play catch.
- Wheelbarrow, crab and bear-walk races: Holding one of these tough positions gives you a real workout.
- Animal races: Hop like a bunny or frog, squat and waddle like a duck, etc.
- Obstacle course: Create a furniture course in your apartment or take chalk and make a course outside.
- Follow the leader: Add to the workout with energetic movements such as jumping, stomping and squatting.
- Dance party: Turn on the music and shake your groove.
- Freeze dance: When the music stops, freeze in your pose and hold it until the music begins again.
- Scavenger hunt: Write up clues and hide them around the apartment. Kids can race to find each clue for a small prize at the end.\
- Jumping jacks: Simple but good for coordination and they get your heart going. When my kids can't sleep, I make them do 25 to tire out.
- Parachute: This kiddie gym standby can be re-created at home with old sheets. Each kid takes an end of the parachute or sheet and fans it upward while one of you runs underneath.
- Bubble wrap attack: If you get bubble wrap in the mail, jump on it until it's all popped.
- Clean-up race: Set a timer or put on a song to see who can right the room the fastest.
- Tickle tag: Chase your children. When you catch them, it's tickle time.
- Temper tantrum: Have a fit for the fun of it. Flail, stomp and scream.
- Carnival: Set up carnival games such as "Knock Down the Milk Cans" (we used Tupperware).
- Hallway bowling: Fill up water bottles and use any ball you have.
- Hopscotch: Use chalk or tape to make a game on your floor or outside your building.
- Pillow fight: No explanation needed.
- Sock skating: If you have hard floors, put on socks to skate around. Try spins or hockey stops, or see who can slide the farthest. Make sure to move the furniture and watch for splinters.
- Bubble bashing: Blow bubbles and let your child try to smash them.
- Wrestling: Put down a mat, or play on a rug or bed. See if your kids can wrestle you to the ground.
- Pushover Parents: Plant your feet and see if the kids can budge you. If you move your feet, they win. Stand on one foot to make it easier for little kids.
- Popcorn pushups: Put a small bowl of popcorn on the floor. Lower yourself down and stick out your tongue to get a piece of popcorn with each thrust.
Sing, Dance, Move, Play, and Have Fun!