11 Ways to Get Kids in Shape for School
Cynthia Dennison Haines, MD
As the new school year starts and you're busy buying notebooks,
backpacks, and clothes for your children, don't forget that what also should be
high on your list is preparing your kids for that schoolyard kickball game.
Parents often struggle with which type of sport or exercise,
and how much, is right for their kids. However, equally important to consider
is getting them in shape with a general conditioning program to ensure safety
and better performance.
The conditioning program should include a balance of
cardiovascular endurance (aerobic activity), flexibility, and muscular
strength, and should be adapted to fit your child's needs. To complete the
program, be sure to work on each of the following fitness components:
It is vital to keep kids in shape for sports by making sure
they're doing aerobic activities like walking, running, and swimming. Ideally,
children (like adults) should be doing at least 30 minutes a day of a
moderately intense physical activity. Those who are already more active may
benefit from more vigorous exercise. The aerobic training should be strenuous
enough for them to breathe harder without making them gasp for air or stop
Because children of various ages and stages of development
differ in attention spans and physical abilities, you should let them gradually
build up to this recommendation. Younger children may need to exercise in
short, stop-and-go rounds similar to those that happen naturally in most sports
Stronger muscles help kids improve their performance and
protect them from injury. To strengthen muscles, kids need to do exercises that
make the muscles contract by means of resistance. These types of exercises
include weight-training or "body-weight" exercises such as push-ups,
sit-ups, pull-ups, and tug-of-war.
Under the supervision of a trained adult, children can
participate in a strength training program several days a week. Check with your
child's doctor about what specific exercises are appropriate for your
Though most kids are pretty flexible, they should still stretch
before and after sports or fitness activities to prevent injury. The best time
to stretch is the cool-down period, after the kids have gradually slowed down
at the end of their activity. During the cool-down they should stretch every
major muscle group -- in particular, those they used most for the exercise.
They should hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.