Physical activity is important for a healthy body at every age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that children and adolescents get one hour of physical activity daily.
There are many physical, emotional and psychological benefits to exercise. Physical activity helps to build strong bones and muscles, which can improve stature and help maintain a healthy weight. It can also improve cardiovascular fitness, promote relaxation, increase self-esteem, help concentration and may improve sleep.
When you and your children decide to be physically active, talk to your healthcare provider first. Your provider has firsthand knowledge of your children’s health, any individual concerns and medications that could impact their activity level. This discussion should also include safety concerns: wearing appropriate gear for the particular sport, being in a safe environment and making sure the activity level is safe for your kids. You and your children need to plan for cold, hot, rainy or snowy weather. Don’t forget your water bottle to help stay hydrated. Once you have had this initial discussion, the fun starts.
Enjoy Your Activity
Physical activity for children isn’t limited to working out or running. It can include many fun activities. Childhood games such as tag, hide-and-seek and backyard kickball are great ways for kids to be active. Other ways include participating in team sports at their school, recreation department or community programs. Some of these sports can be seasonal, such as flag football, basketball, baseball, tennis, gymnastics and soccer.
Knowing which programs are available in your community can be helpful when planning physical activity for your children. If sports are not interesting for your kids, then local or nationally known gyms such as the YMCA may have classes in swimming or dance or may offer other programs and activities that they may find enjoyable.
There are different types of physical activity, including aerobic activity and strength training. Aerobic activity includes brisk walking, engaging in sports, running, swimming and biking. The easiest way to determine moderate intensity aerobic activity is that you can talk but not sing while doing the activity. The goal is to include vigorous aerobic activity at least three times a week.
Your child may be interested in strength training. Because of the development of the growing body, strength training should not begin until seven to eight years of age, when your child develops balance equal to an adult’s. A child looking to start strength training should begin with low-resistance exercises until expertise in form is achieved, then increase to 8 to 15 repetitions. When this is accomplished, weights can increase by ten-percent increments. Remember safety and monitoring your children’s environment to make sure they don’t overexert themselves in extreme heat or cold weather. When overexertion occurs in the heat, make sure your child rests in a cool place and drinks fluids with salt and sugar, such as sports drinks. This may help with dehydration. In extreme cases, call your provider.
Choose Age-Appropriate Activities
Your children have a developmental level, along with a physical activity aptitude. Choosing age-appropriate activities is helpful in keeping your kids active. For instance, your six-year-old would not want to walk on a treadmill for 60 minutes, but would enjoy running around and playing at the park with your family. Your teen may not want to go to the park with his six-year-old sibling, but would like to play basketball with friends after school.
Motivate Your Kids
Every child has different levels of motivation when it comes to physical activity. The first thing you can do is ask what types of physical activity your children like. Some kids love team sports (football, soccer, basketball), and others like individual sports (tennis, golf). Knowing your children’s interests will assist in motivating them to be physically active. Also, your kids can choose the physical activity they want to do each day to help with their motivation to complete the activity.
Your children may not enjoy physical activity, so starting at their level with 10 to 20 minutes a day and slowly increasing the amount of time spent in physical activity can be helpful. Also, your child and adolescent may like doing all 60 minutes at one time or they may enjoy doing 20 minutes three times a day. The great thing is that physical activity can be tailored to your children’s physical ability level and their daily routine. Normal daily activities such as walking the dog, biking or walking to school can be optimal to add up to the 60 minutes of daily activity.
Make It a Family Affair
You can be a role model in encouraging your kids to be physically active. Your family can participate in family group sports such as playing volleyball, going on a family walk, going to the park, playing tag, kickball or playing tennis. Again, everyone can get involved to promote physical activity for the health of the whole family. In some areas of the country, weather and environment can play a role in the type of activity in which a family can participate.
When weather or other obstacles make it difficult to be outside, engage your children’s imagination. With your young child, make an obstacle course in the living room, time it and have a competition. For your older child, put on music and have a “dance off” with another family member as the judge. Making time during the week or weekend for family fun activity can be a challenge, but making it a priority benefits everyone.
Starting a new habit such as being physically active can be difficult for some kids, adolescents and families. Start small, add more time or activities when you can and be consistent. Let’s say that your children want to start with 20 minutes of physical activity a day. Start at 20 minutes a day for one to two weeks, then increase to 30 minutes a day. Make a chart, allow your kids’ input and, again, be consistent as much as possible.
Spice It Up
Some kids love engaging in the same sport or activity every day, and some don’t. Utilizing the list of activities can create a physical activity “menu,” in which your children can pick and choose the activity that day. If an activity requires planning, you can incorporate it into your family’s schedule to ensure success for your children’s physical activity goals.
Technology can also be a way to get kids physically active. Pedometers are great for counting step goals. Watches, phone applications and pedometers can be worn to help focus on a goal. Video games can get children and adolescents jumping, running in place or dancing to music.
Physical activity is important for growth and includes many other benefits as well. Your family can help to promote your children’s goal of 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Considering their interests, ages and available opportunities can make it easy to attain their physical activity goals.
Denise M. Kilway, DNP, RN, APNP, is a PNP at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. She works in the NEW Kids Clinic, which focuses on childhood weight management.