What kind of exercise should my children get for health and physical fitness?
According to Chapter 3 of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents (age 6–17) need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:
- Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes can be either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding) most days, but at least three days a week should include some vigorous-intensity exercise.
- Muscle-strengthening activities such as playing tug of war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least three times a week. For safety guidelines on strength training for children and teens, check out this PDF from HPRC.
- Bone-strengthening (impact) activities such as running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities strengthen bones and promote healthy growth and also should be done at least three times a week.
The 60 minutes each day doesn’t have to be all at once, it can be accumulated throughout the day. And it doesn’t have to be the kind of exercise that you do as a grownup; no need to sign up your child for a gym membership or for workout classes. Exercise should be in the form of playtime so that your children associate physical activity and exercise with fun.
Play activities that meet exercise standards should include continuous movements such as biking and running, which should also get the heart pumping. Organized sports are also a great way for your children to exercise, as long as they enjoy it and want to be involved in sports. However, play could be as simple as a game of tag in the yard. On a rainy day, physically active video games that get your child dancing and moving around can be a good alternative, but they’re not a substitute for “real” activities.
Keep your kids from getting bored by mixing up activities. You can set a good example with your own exercise habits or at the very least by encouraging your children to exercise. Think about activities you can do as a family too. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active together.
As an example, a week of activities might look something like this:
- Monday: Plan a playground play date with other kids in the neighborhood. Climbing on monkey bars, playing hopscotch, and other obstacles help build muscular strength and provides bone strengthening too. You can search for playgrounds near you on the KaBOOM! website.
- Tuesday: Take an energetic bike ride after school/work; it can provide vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. You can find great places to ride on the Rails-to-Trails website.
- Wednesday: Do some resistance activities or yoga (muscle-strengthening exercise) at home. The American Council on Exercise has videos of both outdoor and indoor (for rainy days) exercises.
- Thursday: Take a long walk to the library (moderate-intensity aerobic exercise).
- Friday: Have a family dance-off with active video games (aim for vigorous, bone-strengthening intensity) and follow with a game of tug-of-war (muscle strengthening).
- Saturday: Play a pick-up game of basketball or soccer; running and similar weight-bearing (vigorous-intensity aerobic and bone strengthening) activities help build strong bones.
- Sunday: Plan an afternoon hike and picnic (moderate-intensity aerobic activity). Try the new youth-oriented Discover the Forest website from the National Park Service for places to go near you. There’s even a free iPhone app, so you can find places while you’re on the go.
These are just a few ideas; you need to find activities that you all enjoy, that fit into your family’s daily routine, and with the resources available to you. Remember that physical fitness has immense benefits and can build strong muscles and bones, as well as improve self-esteem, sleep, and learning ability. Finally: It’s important to lead by example and help make exercise a family affair; exercising as a family is a great way to start your kids off on the track to active lifestyles, and you may notice you’ll start to feel healthier too!