Most young kids love to play and be active. Sadly, activity levels often decline as we get older. Helping your kids develop the skills needed for enjoyable physical activity can foster a continued desire to be active. Recommendations for finding the best age-appropriate physical activities for your children follow.
Lifelong Benefits of Exercise
Even though one in three American kids is overweight or obese, the benefits of regular physical activity in childhood are not limited to weight maintenance or loss. Regular physical activity decreases the risk for premature death, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, physical activity also builds strong bones and muscles, enhances psychological well-being and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. Participating in physical activity in childhood also promotes dedication to a goal, listening skills, friendships, teamwork and self-esteem. Studies show that regular physical activity positively impacts classroom performance, improving concentration, memory and behavior.
Beyond Gym Class
Overall, the physical activity recommendation for 6- to 17-year-old children is one hour or more of moderate to- vigorous physical activity per day. The entire 60 minutes does not need to be accomplished in one session.
Kids first encounter structured physical activity when they enter school. School aged children have regular school recesses, participate in more unstructured physical activity during the day and after school, and do not have the physical and psychological developmental capabilities to learn some of the more complex rules of activities taught in physical education (PE) classes. Therefore, the recommendations for PE vary according to age-group. The national recommendation for PE in elementary schools is 150 minutes per week. This may take place in three days per week of 50-minute gym periods, five days per week of 30-minute gym periods or a different combination depending on the school.
In secondary education, the recommendation is 225 minutes per week. Within the PE world, kids learn different sports and often spend much of the period watching demonstrations or standing in line. PE programs are designed to establish and sustain active lifestyles, but do not provide all of the physical activity kids need. Recently, school based physical education program funding has been cut and school systems struggle to maintain physical education recommendations. Furthermore, kids who do not enjoy physical activity may refuse to participate and, therefore, perform less activity than their parents are led to believe.
Helping Your Child Achieve Optimal Physical Activity
It’s important to help your kids meet their physical activity recommendations. Try teaching them various activities, and learn along with them. You should model active lifestyles for your children and participate so they grow up with physical activity as a normal part of their everyday routine.
If kids don’t enjoy a particular activity, don’t force them to continue. However, finding an activity they enjoy is crucial. The more children enjoy a physical activity, the more they will benefit from it physically and psychologically. Not everyone can become a world-class athlete, but every age-group can and should benefit from regular physical activity. Physical activity includes all movement that requires more energy output than the resting state, such as all types of recreation, sports and daily activities. It does not need to be structured. Encourage your kids to try multiple activities or exercises in order to strengthen all muscle groups equally and decrease the risk of injury. Physical activity should focus on improving balance, posture and coordination. Should you be stumped on activities for your kids, ask your healthcare provider for suggestions.
How to Get Started
Before beginning any structured exercise program, all kids should have a well-child visit with their provider. For children with uncontrolled hypertension, seizure disorders or a history of childhood cancer and chemotherapy, consult their provider for a modified exercise program that takes any limitations into account. For kids with congenital heart disease, consult their cardiologist prior to beginning any exercise program.
There are three types of physical activities: muscle strengthening, bone strengthening and aerobic exercise (moderate-to-vigorous intensity). Structured strength training is not necessary for the school-aged child, but can be incorporated as desired after the age of seven, or when a child has attained good balance and posture. In this age-group, muscle and bone strengthening can be attained through other play activities.
Aerobic activities are the same across age-groups, but length and intensity may vary according to the child’s experience. When beginning strength training at any age, certain guidelines should be followed as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
* A certified trainer should supervise all kids with no greater than a 1-10 trainer child ratio.
* Sessions should take place approximately twice a week for 30 minutes. No further benefit is gained from four or more sessions per week.
* A warm-up and cool-down should be done with any strength-training session, which could be a five-minute walk or bike and static or dynamic stretching.
* Exercises should include all major muscle groups, with a focus on the trunk (including lower back, gluteal and abdominals).
* Each exercise should be learned with a focus on proper technique through the full range-of-motion and no or low-resistance. When using resistance, free weights are better than machines.
* When a child can perform 8 to 15 repetitions with proper technique, increase weight in increments of ten percent, or up the number of repetitions with less weight to improve endurance.
* Compound exercises — those that include multiple muscle groups in the same movements — are especially beneficial. One example of a compound exercise is the burpee, which improves aerobic capacity, upper-body strength and bone strengthening through a combination of repetitive push-ups to squat jumps.
Exercises for School-Aged Kids
* Riding a bike
* Jumping rope
* Obstacle courses designed at home or at school, inside or outside
* Tug of war
* Monkey bars
* Climbing trees
* Organized sports
Exercises for Adolescents
* Riding a bike
* Jumping rope
* Squat variations
* Lunge variations walking or stationary
* Push-ups/pull-ups, variations with or without assistance
* Plank variations
* Burpee variations
* Organized sports
You and your kids should agree on activities that are enjoyable for everyone to meet the daily total of 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. Since any time adds to the total, examine your current daily schedule to see where your family could fit 10 to 15 more minutes of physical activity, set goals and record your accomplishments. For example, a school-aged child may spend 10 minutes playing hopscotch at recess, 20 minutes playing tag after school, and 45 minutes at soccer practice, which easily exceeds the recommendations. Similarly, an adolescent may spend 30 minutes doing strength training before school and also have an hour-long gym class where only 30 minutes are moderate- to-vigorous exercise. This also meets the 60-minute recommendation. The amount of time in each activity depends Fitness on the child and family, but the exercises and amount of time in each activity should be varied throughout the week.
Children who have not participated in any exercise are beginners and require more time and attention for teaching and injury prevention. As kids become more familiar with an activity, have spent significant time performing a certain activity or display heightened interest in and commitment to a particular activity, they may be considered moderate or advanced. At this point, they may be ready for competitive participation. However, they should continue to try various activities throughout childhood to gain maximal benefits of strength, balance, coordination, agility and endurance. For a quick review of the guidelines to have on hand, visit http://health.gov/paguidelines/midcourse/
Have fun being active!
Hope Orvold, MSN, APNP, CPNPPC, is a primary care certified PNP working on her doctorate with a focus on pediatric weight management.