How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?

Children running in park
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Worry is a familiar feeling as a parent. And worrying that your child is getting enough exercise is just another item on the long list of “am I doing it right?” So, let’s get that worry out of the way by putting the cards all out on the table: why kids need exercise, how much they need, and what kinds of exercise they need. We’ll even take it a step further and end with a few ideas to get going!

First up, why do kids need exercise?

We all know exercise is important, but why exactly. The general answer that it makes us healthier is correct, but knowing the specifics may make it even more motivating to help our children get enough exercise.

Here are just a few reasons to get your kids moving (

  • increased cardiorespiratory fitness
  • stronger muscles
  • stronger bones
  • reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • more likely to have a healthy body weight and composition
  • more likely to be healthy adults

That last reason may be the most delayed benefit, but it also might be the most important. Setting our kids up for long-term health is one of the best gifts we can give them.

Next up: how much and what kind. 

The current recommendation is that children (ages 6-17) get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Wow. That sounds like a big number to swallow. But realize that doesn’t have to be all at once. It can be broken up into a 10-minute walk to school, plus 20 minutes of recess time, and then 30 minutes of outside play after school.

It all adds up.

The recommendations also mention different types of exercise. Your child should get a combination of these 3 categories to meet their 60 minutes/day goal. The following excerpt from the Physical Activity Guidelines tells us what kinds of exercise our kids need:

  • Aerobic Activity: Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as running, dancing, or biking), and include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week
  • Muscle-Strengthening: As part of the 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, include muscle-strengthening physical activity (such as climbing trees, using playground equipment, or lifting weights) on at least 3 days of the week; note this does not mean formal muscle-strengthening programs such as lifting weights
  • Bone-Strengthening: As part of the 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, include bone-strengthening physical activity (such as running or jumping rope) on at least 3 days of the week

That’s a lot of information and even more numbers, but the bottom line is that kids need variety. Just as we need variety in the foods we choose, our kids need variety in what kinds of exercise they get.  Plus, mixing it up makes it more fun!

So now that we know the recommendation, how can we help our kids meet the recommendation, and most importantly, improve or maintain their overall health? The answer will be slightly different for every family and every child, but overall it comes down to routine. We need routines that encourage movement and physical activity.

What can you build into your daily routine to help your kids be more active? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Walk instead of drive. Leave a few minutes early for school and walk. Walk to the park instead of drive. Take a walk from the park to the library. Take an after dinner walk as a family.
  • Set aside time to be outside, no matter the weather. In cooler months, bundle up. And in warmer months, avoid the heat of the day.
  • Sign up for a class. Gymnastics, martial arts, ballet, dance; the options are as diverse as your child.
  • Get active as a family. Take an after dinner walk as a family. Play a game of kick ball. Find a new hike to do together.

There are plenty of ways to help your kids get the exercise they need. And once you get a few of these activities built into your daily routines, you can cross that worry off the list.

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