Healthy Beginnings

Kids and Exercise

350-kids_exerciseWhen most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym 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, soccer practice or dance class. They’re also exercising when they’re at recess, riding bikes or 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 because exercise helps control body fat
  • be less likely to become overweight
  • decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • possibly 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 and are 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 in action when they:

1. run away from the kid who’s “it” (endurance)

2. cross the monkey bars (strength)

3. 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 is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for continuous 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. Examples of aerobic activities are basketball, bicycling, ice-skating, inline skating, soccer, swimming, tennis, walking, jogging and running.

Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Although some kids benefit from weightlifting, it should be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who works with them. Most kids actually do not need a formal weight-training program to be strong. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Kids also incorporate strength activities in their play 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 look for opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split or do a cartwheel.

The Sedentary Problem

The percentage of overweight and obese kids and teens has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Although many factors contribute to this epidemic, children are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they’re sitting around a lot more than they used to.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child is watching about 3 hours of television a day. The average kid spends 5½ hours on all screen media combined (TV, videos and DVDs, computer time outside of schoolwork and video games).

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 playing video games. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 2 watch no TV at all and that screen time should be limited to no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming a day for kids 2 years and older.

Raising a Fit Kid

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 child participate in a variety of activities that are age-appropriate.
  • Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
  • Incorporate activity into daily routines, such as 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 you can count on your child to come back for more.

This information was provided by KidsHealth, one of the largest resources online for medically reviewed health information written for parents, kids and teens. For more articles like this one, visit KidsHealth.org or TeensHealth.org. © 1995-2009. The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.