Why is physical activity so important for children?
More children and teens are overweight or obese now than ever before. Regular physical activity can help prevent serious health problems that are associated with overweight and obesity.
Physical activity also has many other benefits, including the following:
- It helps burn calories instead of storing them as body fat. This means it helps children maintain a healthy weight and reduces their risk of being overweight or obese.
- It helps keep blood sugar levels more balanced and in a normal, healthy range. This is especially important for children who have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes.
- It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- It helps make bones and muscles strong.
- It builds strength and endurance.
- It relieves stress and improves sleep and mental health.
- It can boost self-esteem by helping children feel more confident about their bodies and appearance.
How much physical activity does my child need?
Children 6 years of age and older need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. This doesn't have to be done all at one time. It can be done throughout the day in shorter periods of activity.
What types of physical activity does my child need?
Just like adults, children need 3 kinds of exercise on a regular basis: aerobic, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening. Each of these types should be included at least 3 times per week as part of your child's 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Aerobic ("cardio") exercise causes the heart and lungs to work harder than they do when you are resting. Examples of aerobic activities your child may enjoy include the following:
- Inline skating
- Playing basketball
Muscle-strengthening activities build and maintain muscles. They also improve balance. Examples include the following:
- Push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups
Bone-strengthening exercises help bones grow and stay strong. Examples include the following:
- Jumping rope
- Playing basketball, tennis, or volleyball
What can I do to encourage my child to be active?
When it comes to physical activity, there is something for everyone. By trying different activities, your child can find something that is a good fit for his or her personality.
Encourage your child to try team or group activities, such as soccer, gymnastics, basketball, t-ball, softball, or bowling, but be sure you're not putting pressure on your child. Keep in mind that some children enjoy the social aspects of team sports, but other children may feel pressured or embarrassed competing on a team. These children may prefer other types of group activities, such as playing tag or hide-and-seek.
Activities that can be done alone may appeal to some children. Examples of this type of activity include riding a bike, playing on a jungle gym, playing with the family pet, jumping on a trampoline, walking, or skating.
Be a healthy role model for your child. Be physically active in your daily life, and plan active family outings. One way you can begin to build activity into your family's lifestyle is to celebrate with action! Instead of having a sugary treat, celebrate milestones as a family by doing something active, such as hiking, swimming, or playing volleyball together.
Why is limiting screen time important?
Screen time includes watching TV or DVDs, playing video or computer games, and surfing the Internet. These activities are usually done while sitting or standing still. Try to limit your child's total daily screen time to 1 to 2 hours or less. Remember that you're a role model for your child. Set a good example by limiting your own screen time.
Are there ways to make screen time more active?
Some video game systems include low levels of physical activity, such as games that mimic the motions of dancing, bowling, tennis, and other sports. Although playing these games is better than sitting still, it's best to limit these video games when you limit your child's screen time. Encourage your child to dance, bowl, and play tennis or other sports in real life, not just in a video game.
Another way to include physical activity in screen time is to encourage your child to be active while watching a TV show or playing a video game. For example, he or she can do jumping jacks during commercials or jog in place while enjoying a show.
What's wrong with this picture
- On average, 8- to 18-year-olds spend: more than 4 hours each day watching TV, videos, DVDs, and prerecorded shows; more than 1 hour on the computer; and more than 1 hour playing video games.
- Two out of every 3 kids have a TV in their bedroom.
- Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend approximately 1½ hours more each day watching TV than kids who don't have a TV in their bedroom.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical Activity for Everyone: How much physical activity do children need?. Accessed 01/14/11
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for Parents—Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight. Accessed 01/14/11
- National Diabetes Education Program. Tips for Teens with Diabetes: Be Active. Accessed 01/14/11
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. We Can! Get Active. Accessed 01/14/11
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.