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Recommendations for Kids' Physical Activity

Exercise and Fitness for Kids

By

Updated February 11, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Most parents know that kids need to have regular physical activity, both to maintain a healthy weight and to stay healthy.

Not getting enough physical activity can put kids at risk for:

  • childhood obesity
  • higher blood pressure
  • higher levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol)
  • lower levels of "good" cholesterol (HDL cholesterol)

In addition to lowering your child's risk factors for coronary heart disease and diabetes mellitus, regular physical activity can help to reduce anxiety and stress, boost self-esteem, and help build strong bones and strong muscles.

But how much physical activity is enough?

Physical Activity Recommendations

In general, exercise guidelines recommend that kids should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Keeping up with these recommendations is not as simple as telling your kids to go outside and play for an hour, though. To keep up with the physical activity recommendations, kids should do some age-appropriate:

  • moderate intensity aerobic physical activity
  • vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity
  • muscle-strengthening physical activity
  • bone-strengthening physical activity

While it might seem like it will be difficult to keep your kids active for an hour at a time, it is important to keep in mind that the recommendation for at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day doesn't have to be done all at one time. So your child could meet his physical activity requirements if he were to walk or ride his bike to and from school (20 minutes), play actively at recess at school (20 minutes), and then go to a gymnastics class after school (20 minutes).

And although it is possible that your kids can be active on their own, getting them signed up for an individual or team sport is a great way to help them meet their daily physical activity requirements.

Parents can also help their kids be physically active by setting a good example and being active themselves, joining their kids in active family outings, and setting limits on screen time.

Aerobic Physical Activity

Most of your child's 60 minutes of daily physical activity should be aerobic physical activity, which can include activities such as:

  • bicycling
  • brisk walking
  • dancing
  • hopping
  • jumping rope
  • rollerblading
  • running
  • skipping
  • swimming

Active free play games, such as playing tag, and participating in most youth sports, such as soccer, karate, and tennis, would also usually be considered aerobic physical activities.

At least three days a week, your child should be doing some more vigorous intensity physical activities, like running or bicycling at a fast speed, that should get him breathing harder and his heart beating faster than other less intense physical activity, like brisk walking or bicycling at a slower speed.

Muscle Strengthening Physical Activity

In addition to aerobic activities, kids should do some age-appropriate muscle-strengthening physical activity at least three days a week.

Depending on your child's age and abilities, these muscle-strengthening physical activities might include:

  • cheerleading
  • gymnastics
  • modified push-ups, with your child's knees on the ground
  • rock climbing
  • rope climbing
  • sit-ups or crunches
  • swinging on playground equipment and bars

Active free play games, such as playing tug-of-war, and for older kids, doing push-ups, pull-ups, and lifting weights, would also be considered muscle-strengthening physical activities.

Bone Strengthening Physical Activity

Parents often think their kids get strong bones by drinking milk and getting enough calcium in their diet. Regular bone-strengthening physical activities, at least three days a week, are important too, and can include:

  • hopping, skipping, or jumping
  • jumping rope
  • running
  • playing basketball, gymnastics, tennis, and volleyball, etc.

Active free play games, such as playing hop-scotch, would also be considered bone-strengthening physical activities.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity for Everyone. How much physical activity do children need? Accessed February 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Active Children and Adolescents. Accessed February 2010. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter3.aspx

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