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 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 when playing tag.
The Many Benefits of Exercise
Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. Active kids will have:
Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, fit kids sleep better.
They’re also better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running
to catch a bus to studying for a test.
The Three Elements of Fitness
If you’ve ever watched kids on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of
fitness in action when they:
- run away from the kid who’s “it” (endurance)
- cross the monkey bars (strength)
- bend down to tie their shoes (flexibility)
Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they
can work on all three elements.
Endurance develops when kids regularly get
activity. During aerobic exercise, large muscles are moving, the heart
beats faster, and a person breathes harder. Aerobic activity strengthens the heart
and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Aerobic activities
Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting
weights. Instead, kids can do push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other
exercises to help tone and strengthen muscles. They also improve their strength when
they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles
and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids get chances
every day to stretch when they reach for a toy, practice a split, or do a cartwheel.
The Sedentary Problem
Kids and teens are sitting around a lot more than they used to. They spend hours
every day in front of a screen (TVs, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) looking
at a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). Too much screen time and
not enough physical activity add to the problem of childhood obesity.
One of the best ways to get kids to be more active is to limit the amount of time
spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or other screens. The American
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents:
- Put limits on the time spent using media, which includes TV, social media, and
video games. Media should not take the place of getting enough sleep and being active.
- Limit screen time to 1 hour a day or less for children 2 to 5 years old.
- Discourage any screen time, except video-chatting, for kids younger than 18 months.
- Choose high-quality programming and watch it with your kids to help them understand
what they’re seeing.
- Keep TVs, computers, and video games out of children’s bedrooms.
- Turn off screens during mealtimes.
How Much Exercise Is Enough?
Parents should make sure that their kids get enough exercise. So, how much is enough?
Kids and teens should get 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity
Toddlers and preschool children should play actively several times a day. Toddlers
should get at least 60 minutes of active play every day and preschoolers should have
at least 120 minutes active play every day. This time should include planned, adult-led
physical activity and unstructured active free play.
Young children should not be inactive for long periods of time — no more than 1
hour unless they’re sleeping. And school-age children should not be inactive for periods
longer than 2 hours.
Raising Fit Kids
Combining regular physical activity with a healthy diet is the key to a healthy
Here are some tips for raising fit kids:
- Help your kids do in a variety of age-appropriate activities.
- Set a regular schedule for physical activity.
- Make being active a part of daily life, like taking the stairs instead of the
- Embrace a healthier lifestyle yourself, so you’ll be a positive role model for
- Be active together as a family.
- Keep it fun, so your kids will come back for more.