When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym, running on a treadmill or lifting weights.
But for kids, exercise means simply playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes or playing tag.
“Encouraging kids to be physically active is important at any age,” said Denise Stoneman, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Boardman. “Even babies should do activities to develop their gross motor skills.”
In fact, kids who are active at a young age tend to stay active throughout their lives and have a lower risk of becoming obese, developing heart disease or diabetes.
In addition to these physical benefits, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.
As parents, you can encourage active play by making sure your kids get plenty of time outside and away from the TV. Also, join in as much as possible. Not only will it be quality time spent together, your child will benefit from the active example you’re setting.
“The best way to get your children excited about exercise is to be active yourself,” Denise said. “Find family activities that you can all do together. Also, as a family, cheer on your child at individual events.”
How much exercise is enough?
Now that you’re ready to make sure your kids get enough exercise, how much is enough?
Infants and young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time – no more than 1 hour unless they’re sleeping. And school-age children shouldn’t be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
“Teens should get 60 minutes of exercise daily,” said Denise. “Any aerobic exercises that increase the heart rate and breathing, and are good for the heart, are great options. Sports participation, dance, gymnastics, biking and swimming are great. Choose something that they find interesting. That way they’ll enjoy it and stick with it.”
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education offers these activity guidelines for kids:
- Infant — No specific requirements –Physical activity should encourage motor development
- Toddler — 1.5 hours — 30 minutes planned physical activity and 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
- Preschooler — 2 hours — 60 minutes planned physical activity and 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)
- School-Age and Teens — 1 hour or more — Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more.