Parents, guardians, schools and community-based organizations have a responsibility to provide adequate amounts of exercise for kids. When kids engage in regular physical activity they become more healthy and fit. Physically active kids have higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and stronger muscles when compared to those who aren’t active. They also typically have a lower percentage body fat and their bones are stronger and more dense.
Kids who are active on a regular basis also have a better chance of a becoming physically active adults. Children don’t typically develop chronic diseases (ie. heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, etc.). However, they can develop risk factors for these diseases very early in life. Regular physical activity makes it less likely that these risk factors will develop and more likely that children will grow up to be healthy as adults.
Kids can achieve significant health benefits by doing moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes (one hour) or more each day. This activity should include:
- Aerobic activity
- Muscle-strengthening activities (age appropriate)
- Bone-strengthening activities (age appropriate)
Current research shows that the total amount (volume) of physical activity is essential for achieving health benefits. Even so, bone-strengthening activities remain especially important for children and young adolescents because the greatest gains in bone mass occur during the years just before and during puberty. In addition, the majority of peak bone mass is obtained by the end of adolescence.
Physical Activity Guidelines for Children & Adolescents (ages 6 to 17)
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (one hour) or more of physical activity daily.
Aerobic: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.
Muscle-Strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
Bone-Strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.
NOTE: It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, are fun and enjoyable and offer a wide variety of choices.
The Influence of Age on Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents
Children and adolescents should meet the physical activity guidelines by doing activity that is appropriate for their age. The natural patterns of movement for children differ from those of adults. For example, children are naturally active in an intermittent way, particularly when they do unstructured active play. During free play and games, children use basic aerobic and bone-strengthening activities (such as running, hopping, skipping, and jumping) to develop movement patterns and skills. They alternate periods of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity with periods of rest. Children also increase muscle strength through unstructured activities that involve lifting or moving their body weight or working against resistance. Children don’t usually need structured muscle-strengthening programs (ie. lifting weights or using resistance machines).
Examples of Physical Activities for Kids
Moderate–Intensity Aerobic Activities
- Active recreation (ie. hiking, skateboarding and rollerblading)
- Riding a bike
- Brisk walking
Vigorous–Intensity Aerobic Activities
- Active games that involve running and chasing (ie. “Tag”, “Dodgeball” and “Red Rover)
- Jumping rope
- Martial arts (ie. karate and taekwondo)
- Specific sports (ie. soccer, ice hockey, basketball, swimming and tennis)
- Cross-country skiing
- Games such as “Tug-of-War”
- Resistance exercises using body weight (ie. modified push-ups, pull-ups, squats and lunges)
- Resistance exercises using resistance bands
- Climbing a rope or a tree
- Sit-ups (or crunches)
- Swinging on playground equipment
- Games such as “Hopscotch”
- Activities that promote impact such as hopping, skipping and jumping
- Jumping rope
- Sports such as gymnastics, basketball, volleyball and tennis
Physical Activities for Kids – Websites and Resources
For more information on how to get kids more active in your own home, classroom or community the following websites provide information on initiatives (primarily in the U.S.) that are designed to provide solutions.
- National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (NFFSN)
- President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition
- The President’s Challenge
- Let’s Move
Making Sure Kids Get (and Stay) Active
Parents and other adults who work with or care for youth should be familiar with the physical activity guidelines. These adults should be aware that, as children become adolescents, they typically reduce their physical activity. Adults play an important role in providing age-appropriate opportunities for physical activity. In doing so, they help lay an important foundation for life-long, health–promoting physical activity. Adults need to encourage active play throughout childhood and sustained activity as children grow older.