Children need to exercise just as much as adults. Daily physical activity in children and adolescents is very important to lifelong health and well-being.
However, many kids worldwide (not just in the U.S.) are not getting enough physical activity. This is a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other long-term health problems.
In the U.S., childhood obesity is becoming more and more common. It is a serious health problem affecting adolescents. Obesity is a complex disease, but proper physical activity is one way we can combat obesity and reduce the risk of preventable health problems.
Benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents
Kids who live an active lifestyle experience dramatic benefits above their sedentary (less active) peers. This includes having healthier hearts, muscles, bones, and brains and being the right weight for their height.
“It is proven that physical activity promotes improved brain function, including memory, attention and problem-solving skills,” said Beau Palmer, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children's. “Active kids perform better in school, get high-quality sleep and are better behaved with less stress, anxiety and depression. In addition, these children have more confidence and higher self-esteem.”
How much exercise should your child get every day?
Physical activity starts as a newborn. Children under 1 year of age should be physically active through activities like tummy time. This activity then progresses into rolling, sitting up, crawling, and walking.
When your child is 3 to 5 years old, they should get at least three hours of physical activity a day. This may sound like a lot but think about how much your child runs around in a day.
Once your child reaches kindergarten, they should get at least one hour of aerobic cardiovascular exercise and strengthening exercise for muscles and bones.
“The American Heart Association recommends that kids and teens (ages 6-17) get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily,” Dr. Palmer said. “Any vigorous activity that gets the heart pumping harder and faster is a good indicator of moderate exercise.”
How do I know if my child is getting enough physical activity?
According to a survey, over two-thirds of parents do not know how much exercise their child needs to stay healthy.
“From my experience, most parents do not know how much their child is exercising because most of it is done at school,” Dr. Palmer said. “The kids who exercise outside of school are either on a sports team or involved in organized activities like tumbling, dance, martial arts, swim lessons, etc., so parents are better able to gauge.”
Few children are meeting the recommended physical activity during school and recess. Physical activity can vary significantly among various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
How to get your child moving more
Lead by example. Evidence shows that children who grow up in a family with active parents become active adults. Be a good role model and set a good example by showing your kids that exercise is an integral part of your life. Incorporate exercise into your family time and make it fun so your kids want to participate.
Limit screen time. Reduce or limit time spent watching television, playing video games, and/or using a digital device.
Provide kids with opportunities to be active. Give them active toys and games, like bikes, skateboards, roller skates, scooters, jump ropes, balls and sports equipment. Always use safety equipment.
Enroll them in team or organized sports, dance, and other active recreation like swimming, biking and running. Find activities your child really enjoys. If they are having fun, they will more likely want to participate more often. Get familiar with community facilities near you, like pools, recreation centers, bike paths and parks.
When safe, let them walk or bike to places instead of by car. Walking or biking to school, a friend's house or the park is a great way to incorporate more exercise into their daily routine.
While it may seem like your child is getting enough regular exercise, it is important to ensure they get plenty of physical activity.
Physical activity is a key part of your child’s long-term health and well-being. Regular exercise can improve cardiovascular health, decrease the risk of preventable diseases and help them perform better in school.
Have questions or concerns about your child’s health or level of physical activity?
Schedule an appointment with a pediatrician near you.