Children, Teens, and Physical Activity

Inactivity in children has become an epidemic. Children and teens in the United States are becoming more and more sedentary. Only 25% of kids today get enough physical activity. This comes with many possible physical problems that can follow them for the rest of their lives. Obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure can all be caused by a lack of activity. Plus, children who develop obesity early on are 5x more likely to be obese for the rest of their lives. In addition, if they do not strengthen their bones and muscles, it increases the risks of brittle bones, osteoporosis, and muscle atrophy when they are older. 

So, what’s the recommended amount of physical activity for children? The CDC recommends that children 3-5 be active throughout the entire day. Yes, some screen time is fine, but in general, children of this age should not be sedentary for hours at a time. Children 6-17 need to be more active too. This means less sitting and more walking. 

The CDC also recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense activity every day, especially for teens. Be sure to include:

  • Moderate aerobic activities (for both children and teens) such as walking, running, swimming, cycling, and sports. Bonus points: gardening and housework that require a lot of movement counts, too! Knock out two birds with one stone! Do these at least three times a week.
  • Intense aerobic activities include running, cycling (but add more hills and increase speed), tag or flag football, jump rope, martial arts, sports, vigorous dancing, and swimming (just increase the intensity). Basically, anything that gets their heart rate up for at least 60 min. 
  • Muscle-strengthening activities by age group:
    • For children, this includes things like games such as tug-of-war, climbing trees or ropes, climbing playground equipment, and yoga.
    • For teens, this includes all of the above, plus at this stage of development, they can start adding resistance exercises such as bodyweight exercises (like pushups and sit-ups), using resistance bands, and weight training. If your teen is inexperienced in weight training, make sure that someone else is present and that they are trained in proper form!

How do you get your kids to be more active? Here are a few tips:

  • Be a good role model! Children emulate what their parents do. If they see you exercise, they will want to exercise too, especially younger children. Let them join you and modify activities to be age-appropriate. Teens might not want to be “just like you” anymore, but if you model a lifestyle that includes a lot of physical activity, they are still more likely to think it’s “normal” and continue to be active!
  • Start young. They say habits are hard to break, and the same is true with good habits! The younger you start helping your kids be active, the more likely they are to take that mentality with them into adulthood!
  • Plan fun activities. This includes things like hiking, playing, sledding, swimming, playing games, dancing, and anything else your child enjoys that gets them off of the couch. 
  • Structure family time around moderate exercise. Instead of plopping down on the couch after dinner, take your family for a walk or play a game.

It might seem like a lot at first, but children actually want to be active. Their bodies are built for it! Exercising with your kids is a great bonding experience; plus, if you set a good example and join in on the fun, it’s great for your body, too!