Exercise for Kids at Every Age

How much physical activity children need to stay healthy
Every Age

As parents, we all want our children to be as healthy as they can be. This involves many different factors – healthy eating, adequate sleep, good exercise, vaccinations and regular visits to the eye doctor, dentist and pediatrician. All of this is much easier said than done, especially during the pandemic.

Focusing on physical activity, studies show that only about 25% of children get the recommended amount of physical activity. Decreased physical activity means increased rates of obesity. The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, show that obesity prevalence was nearly 14% in 2- to 5-year-olds, 18% in 6- to 11-year-olds and 20% in 12- to 16-year-olds. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol which contribute to cardiovascular disease (think heart attacks and stroke), increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of more severe asthma and sleep apnea, liver disease, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

The good news is exercise has been proven to help kids focus in school, improve sleep, relieve stress and avoid risk-taking behaviors like smoking and drinking. To help keep your children healthy, follow these exercise guidelines:

Infants - This is as simple as tummy time and interactive play where babies are moved from lying, sitting or standing positions. Thirty minutes or more of this type of activity is encouraged daily.

Toddlers and preschoolers (ages 2 to 5) - These kids need a whopping three hours or more of physical activity per day! This includes activities such as walking around the neighborhood, playing ball and riding scooters and tricycles – all much easier to accomplish during the warmer months than the cold winters. Ideas of indoor activities include going up and down stairs, summersaults, bear crawls, doing long jumps in the hallway, freeze dance, hula hoop, hitting balloons up in the air, Simon Says and paper airplanes.

Children ages 6 and older - This group needs at least 60 minutes of exercise MOST days of the week. This should be a combination of free and organized play – including exercise or sports classes and teams. When school is in session, most parents think their children get enough exercise during physical education class and recess. However, some schools only offer physical education two times per week – often 45-minute periods only – and with larger class sizes, there may not be much activity going on. Similarly, little physical activity may be going on during indoor recess.

Exercise does not need to be done in one 60-minute block but can be broken up throughout the day. Think brisk walks to and from school, a 20-minute bike ride or 20 minutes of dancing. Rush Copley Healthplex offers several workout and yoga videos that can be done in your living room with little to no equipment and modified based on age. Also, schools often offer after-school sports programs, both intramurals starting in fifth or sixth grade and team sports.

Sometimes this is the hardest group of kids to get motivated to exercise. To help, make sure you schedule exercise into their days just as you schedule in school, homework and sleep time. Also, make it a habit – something that they always do after school each day. Instead of allowing children to play on an electronic device, watch a TV show or take a nap after they’ve finished their schoolwork, make it exercise time. To encourage success, help your children find activities they enjoy and participate in activities with them (then you get your exercise in, too).

Adequate physical activity is vital to a child’s overall health, with so many positive benefits other than just keeping weight under control. As parents we need to promote the recommended amount of activity for our children at every age.

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