More children and teens are overweight or have obesity than ever before. It is important for your child to be active. This is a lesson you should teach your children at a young age. Remember that you’re a role model for your child and they will follow your example.
Physical activity helps prevent or reduce health problems. It also helps manage your child’s weight. Other benefits of keeping your child active include:
- Burning calories instead of storing them as body fat
- Maintaining blood sugar levels (this is vital for children who have or are at risk for diabetes)
- Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Increasing bone and muscle strength
- Building strength and endurance
- Relieving stress and helping with focus
- Improving sleep and mental health
- Boosting self-esteem by helping children feel confident about their bodies and appearance
Path to improved health
Children 6 years of age and older should be active 60 minutes or more each day. This doesn’t have to be done all at one time. They can be active several times throughout the day. Just like adults, children need 3 kinds of exercise. They should do a mix of aerobics, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening. Some activities count as more than one type of exercise.
Aerobic (cardio) exercise increases your heart rate and strengthens your heart and lungs. Types of aerobic activities include:
Muscle strengthening builds and maintains muscles. It also improves balance. Examples include:
- Push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups
Bone strengthening helps your bones grow and stay strong. Examples include:
- Jumping rope
- Basketball, soccer, tennis, or volleyball
When it comes to being active, there is something for everyone. Try different activities to see what your child likes. Find things that are fun to do together.
Encourage your child to try physical team or group activities. These could be soccer, tee-ball, gymnastics, or dancing. Being on a team helps your child develop social skills. Keep in mind that some kids enjoy sports, while others don’t like competition. They may prefer group games instead, such as tag or hide-and-seek. Figure out what works best for your child’s personality. It is okay for your child to play alone sometimes, too. This helps them develop independence.
Be a healthy role model for your child. Plan active family outings. Let them see you enjoying exercise. When your child is young, you can push them in a stroller while you run. Another way you can build exercise into your family’s lifestyle is to celebrate with action. Instead of rewarding your child with food, let them pick an activity.
Things to consider
Each day, 8- to 18-year-olds should limit their non-school screen time to between 1 or 2 hours of watching TV and movies, playing on the computer, or playing video games. Screen time limits should include time on their phones as well.
Two out of every 3 kids have a TV in their bedroom. They watch TV about 1½ hours more than kids who don’t have a TV in their bedroom. Health professionals recommend that kids do not have a TV in their bedroom.
You usually sit when you are engaged in screen time. Set a good example by also limiting your own screen time.
There are ways to make screen time more active. Have your child do jumping jacks during commercials. Or they can stand up or jog in place when playing video games. Some video games even include low levels of physical activity. They may mimic the motions of dancing, bowling, tennis, and other sports. Although playing these games is better than sitting, they still count as screen time. Instead, have your child do the motions in real life. Have a dance party, go bowling, or play tennis.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How active should my child be each day if they are overweight or have obesity?
- What kinds of activity can a child who has a physical handicap do?
- How can I keep my child active and prevent injury?
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.