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How much does exercise does my child need?

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Regular exercise is one of the most important things a child can do to get a healthy and productive start in life. Exercise not only helps a child improve their overall fitness, but it can also help a child increase their concentration, improve academic scores, encourage their self-esteem, and build stronger bones, muscles, and heart. In addition, regular exercise can help a child have a lower chance of getting type 2 diabetes as well as having lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who exercise also sleep better, have a better outlook on life and are able to handle physical and emotional challenges better than kids who are inactive.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 3 children aged six and older participate in regular exercise and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

As parents and caregivers, it’s very important to stress the many benefits of exercise to your child beginning at an early age. But how do you determine how much exercise is the right amount for your child? The amount typically depends on age.

Preschool-aged children (3-5 years)

For preschool-aged children (ages 3-5 years), there are no specific recommendations for the number of minutes they should be active each day. But typically, children ages 2-5 years should play actively several times throughout the day to enhance their growth and development. Physical activities for young children should be developmentally appropriate, fun, and offer variety, including hopping, skipping, jumping forward, balancing on one foot, or catching a ball. Parents, caregivers, and child care workers should encourage young children to participate in active play to set a foundation for fitness that can last a lifetime.

Children and adolescents (6-17 years)

For school-aged children and adolescents (ages 6 through 17 years), experts recommend 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day, including daily aerobics, activities that strengthen bones (like running or jumping) 3 days a week, and muscle building activities (like climbing or doing push-ups) 3 days a week. While this may sound like a lot, your child may already be meeting recommendations through normal play, sports, and other physical activities.

Types of Physical Activity

As parents and caregivers stress the importance of exercise, it’s also a good idea to ensure that kids find a physical activity that they like. Many common activities at child care or school, such as playing on playground equipment and jumping rope, cover all their needs at once. But keep in mind that organized sports such as baseball or soccer are also a great way for kids to stay fit. And even though team sports or dance classes are great options to encourage physical activity, there are many other ways for a child to get their daily dose.

When searching for activities that your child can enjoy, consider options like nature walks, hiking, or a climbing wall. You can also encourage everyday activities like walking to the library or to a friend’s house to get their physical fitness. Or you can simply turn on a child’s favorite music and encourage dancing. Also, when a parent or caregiver exercises with their child, you help improve your own fitness while helping your child develop healthy habits of their own. When it comes to physical fitness, being a role model to your child will help them make physical fitness a priority in their own life.

Some other ways to help encourage physical activity for your child include:

  • Giving your children equipment that encourages physical activity.
  • Taking your kids to places where they can be active, such as public parks, community baseball fields, or basketball courts.
  • Be positive about the physical activities in which your child participates and encourage them to be interested in new activities.
  • Make fitness fun. Fun activities can be anything your child enjoys, including team or individual sports or recreational activities such as walking, running, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities, or free-time play.
  • Instead of watching television or playing video games after dinner, encourage your child to turn off the devices and find fun activities to do on their own or with friends and family, such as walking, playing chase, or riding bikes.
  • No matter what you do, stay safe! Be sure to always provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, or knee pads for activities such as riding bicycles, or scooters, skateboarding, roller skating, rock-wall climbing, and other activities that may have a high risk of injury. And finally, be sure to only encourage activities that are age-appropriate for your child.

For examples of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities for children and adolescents, visit www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/what_counts.htm.


By ABC Quality Team on August 31, 2021