Children benefit from exercise and a sense of fitness as
much as adults do. They can participate in the same types of
fitness-flexibility, aerobic fitness, and muscle strengthening. Children and
teens need to get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity
most days of the week, preferably daily.1 Walking
briskly is an example of moderate activity.
Show your children how to stretch
their muscles, and let them do stretching exercises along with you. Gently
correct their form when needed so that they develop good habits and understand
that there is a way to do stretches that makes them most effective.
Children often get
aerobic activity without realizing it. Playing tag, having a squirt-gun fight,
or playing catch with friends all provide aerobic exercise. Going for hikes and
walking to the store also provide aerobic activity. Many schools and
communities have programs for soccer, T-ball, and other activities. These are
great ways for your children to get aerobic exercise and meet new
Bicycling, swimming, and helping in the yard or garden are just a few
examples of activities that strengthen muscles. Many children show an interest
in weights. When properly supervised, strength training for children is safe
and can be helpful in preparing them for sports and starting good lifetime
fitness habits. Talk to your child's doctor before your child starts a
strength-training program.2 This type of exercise is
not right for every child.
When children work with weights:
Have an adult present who knows how to use
Be sure the children learn the proper form. If they
don't, they can hurt themselves. They also probably won't get the full benefit
of exercising with weights if their form is wrong.
machines if they can adjust to your child's size.
Be sure they
don't compete with other children or even with their own past efforts. This can
cause them to push themselves more than what is safe.
Be sure they
don't move to heavier weights too quickly. The size of the weight is not
important. They will get stronger from weight training by doing the right
number of repetitions and sets.
Things for parents to think about
Look for ways to make exercise and fitness more
fun. Notice whether your child enjoys a certain activity, and if he or she does
not, look for other activities. Make activities more fun, perhaps by making
them part of family outings, making up games to do along your route, or
inviting friends to go along.
Expose your child to activities they
can do for a lifetime. Swimming, bicycling, and hiking are examples of
activities many people continue to enjoy until well into old
Be a good role model for your children. If you treat your
fitness program as an unpleasant chore, your children won't see it as much fun
either. On the other hand, try not to emphasize fitness so much that your
children feel pressure to keep up with your expectations.
create a home atmosphere that encourages being active. Children who live in a
household where both parents are inactive are likely to see themselves as
naturally inactive too.
Reduce your child’s time in front of the
television or computer. There is a direct relationship between reducing these
activities and increasing your child's physical activity. Remember that
exercise does not have to be complicated. Just sending children out to play is
better than having them sitting with the television or computer.
If your child is involved in organized sports:
Learn about the risks of injuries for that
sport (which may be different for children than for adults) and how to prevent
them. If you have concerns. talk to your child's doctor.
know your child's coach. Make sure the person knows something about sports
medicine for that particular sport.
Learn about the coach's style
for getting children to learn skills and play well. You and your child should
be comfortable with the coach's style as well as the coach's skills.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S.
Department of Agriculture (2005). Dietary Guidelines for
Americans, 2005, 6th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
Office. Also available online:
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports
Medicine and Fitness (2008). Strength training by children and adolescents.
Pediatrics, 121(4): 835-840.