Children and exercise


When most adults think of exercising, they imagine training in a gym, running on the treadmill, or lifting weights in the weight room.

But for children, exercising means playing and being physically active. Children exercise in school gym class, recess, dance class or soccer practice, bike ride, or hide and seek.

The many benefits of physical exercise

Everyone can benefit from exercising regularly. Children who lead active lives will have:

  • stronger bones and muscles
  • less likely to be  overweight
  • less likely to develop type 2 diabetes
  • lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • a more positive attitude towards life.

Aside from enjoying the health benefits of regular physical exercise, fit children sleep better. They are also better able to cope with physical and emotional challenges, from running so they don’t miss the bus to studying for a test.

The three elements of being in shape

If you’ve ever watched a group of kids playing in a park, you’ve seen the three elements of being physically fit in action when:

  1. they escape from whoever is chasing them in hiding ( resistance )
  2. they move along the metal bars hanging from the arms ( force )
  3. bend over to tie their shoes ( flexibility )

Parents should encourage their children to practice a variety of activities so that they can work on these three elements.

The resistance develops when a child participates regularly in aerobic activities. During aerobic exercise, the larger muscles move, the heart pumps faster, and you breathe harder. Aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all of its cells.

Aerobic exercise can be a lot of fun for both adults and children. Here are several examples of aerobic activities:

  • basketball
  • cycling
  • ice skating
  • inline skating
  • football
  • the swimming
  • the tennis
  • to walk
  • jog
  • to run

Building strength doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights . Instead, children can do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and other exercises that help tone and strengthen muscles. Children also improve strength when climbing, standing, or fighting.

Stretches help improve flexibility , allowing muscles and joints to flex and move easily, covering the full range of motion. Children have opportunities to stretch each day, reaching for toys, spreading their legs, or cartwheeling.

The problem of sedentary lifestyle

Children and adolescents spend much more time sitting than before. They spend hours each day in front of screens (televisions, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) consuming a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). This excess time in front of screens coupled with insufficient time of physical activity adds to the problem of childhood obesity.

One of the best ways to encourage physical activity in children is to limit the amount of time they spend in sedentary activities, especially watching television or using other types of screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) gives parents the following recommendations:

  • Set limits on the time your children spend using various media, including television, social media, and video games. The media should not take away hours of sleep or activity from any child.  
  • Limit screen time for your 2- to 5-year-olds to 1 hour or less a day.
  • Discourage your children under 18 months from using any type of screen except for video chatting.  
  • Choose high-quality shows and watch them with your children to help them understand what they are watching.
  • Store televisions, computers, and video games out of your children’s bedrooms.
  • Turn off screens during meal times.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Parents should make sure their children get enough exercise. But how much is enough? Children and teens should get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.

Children between the ages of 1 and 5 should play actively several times a day. Children between 1 and 3 years of age should play actively for 60 minutes a day and those between 3 and 5 years of age 120 minutes. This time should include planned adult-led activities and unstructured games.  

Young children should not be inactive for long periods of time (no more than an hour), except when they sleep. And, in the school stage, children should not be inactive for periods of more than two 2 hours.

Educate children to be fit

Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to leading a healthy lifestyle .

Here are some tips for getting your child into good physical shape:

  • Help your child participate in a variety of activities that are appropriate for his age.
  • Establish a regular schedule for physical activity.
  • Incorporate activity into your daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of using the elevator.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle yourself, and you will be a positive example for the rest of your family.
  • Stay active as a family.
  • Make it fun and your child will ask for more.

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