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Fitness: Teaching Your Child to Stay Active

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Introduction

Physical activity is essential for lifelong health and well-being. A child can't be healthy if he or she isn't playing actively or exercising most days of the week.

One of the very best things you can do for your children's health is to help make physical activity a habit—something that will be a natural part of their daily lives through adulthood.

 

Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.1 And 3 or more days a week, what they choose to do should:

  • Make them breathe harder and make the heart beat much faster.
  • Make their muscles stronger. For example, they could play on playground equipment, play tug-of-war, lift weights, or use resistance bands.
  • Make their bones stronger. For example, they could run, play hopscotch, jump rope, or play basketball or tennis.

It's okay for them to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day.

Test Your Knowledge

Children need an hour of vigorous exercise—something that makes them breathe hard—at least 3 times a week.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Children should be active at least 1 hour every day. But at least 3 days a week, that 1 hour of exercise should be vigorous enough to make them breathe hard.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Children should be active at least 1 hour every day. But at least 3 days a week, that 1 hour of exercise should be vigorous enough to make them breathe hard.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

Helping your child to be active is one of the very best things you can do for his or her health.

Improving your child's fitness may boost his or her academic performance, self-esteem, and mental health. It will also help your child avoid becoming overweight, which can lead to many other health problems.

Childhood is the best time to learn healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

Test Your Knowledge

Making physical activity a habit will help my child reach or stay at a healthy weight.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Regular physical activity helps children reach or stay at a healthy weight.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Regular physical activity helps children reach or stay at a healthy weight.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Remember that your child's habits start with you. You are the role model. Your habits affect your children's habits.

If physical activity is a habit for you, it will more likely become a habit for your children.

Stay positive

It is important that your children have fun, so don't force them to exercise. Instead, find activities that they like to do and will do without being asked. You can help them stay active and healthy if you:

  • Are a good role model—be active yourself.
  • Create ways for your child to be active for at least 1 hour each day. One way to increase your and your child's activity is to break the time up into several 10- to 15-minute periods of vigorous exercise throughout the day, doing activities such as running, jumping rope, or playing soccer.
    • Plan family activities that involve exercise. Go hiking or biking, wash the car, or walk around a mall. Offer choices, and let your child play.
    • Make physical activity part of daily routines. For example, walk with your child to do errands, or walk to the bus stop or school, if possible.
    • Have your child invite a friend over once a week for a planned physical activity, such as a bike ride, a water balloon toss, or building a snow fort in the yard.
    • Join other families and create "neighborhood" time with group activities like touch football, basketball, or hide-and-seek.
    • Let your child try different organized activities to see what he or she enjoys, such as tennis, T-ball, soccer, or martial arts. Praise your child for doing exercise that he or she enjoys.
  • Allow your child to pick out a low-cost toy at the store, a toy that promotes activity—such as a jump rope or ball—instead of a food treat. Let older children pick out low-cost sports equipment or clothing, or an exercise DVD.
  • Suggest physical activities for your child to do rather than being inactive when he or she is at the sitter or with another caregiver.

Tips for activity in and around the home

  • Make exercise a part of your family's daily life.
    • Ride bikes or hike together.
    • Give family members tasks such as sweeping the floors, weeding the garden, or washing the car.
    • Jump rope, dance, skate, or toss a ball with your child.
    • Take your family to the park or pool.
  • Limit TV, video games, or computer time to 2 hours a day or less (not including time for schoolwork). Sit down with your child to plan out how he or she will use this time.
  • Don't let your child have a TV in his or her room.

Activities at school or clubs

  • Check local schools, the YMCA, and other community resources for exercise or sports programs.
  • Take your child with you to your health club if it has a family exercise time or a swimming pool.

As you make plans to encourage physical activity, think about the problems that might keep your child and family from being physically active. Common things such as bad weather, busy schedules, or just being tired can happen all too easily. Have other options so that you and your child stay active.

Test Your Knowledge

It's not important that my child has fun, as long as he or she is getting needed exercise.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    It's important that your child has fun, so don't force your child to exercise. Instead, find activities that he or she likes to do and will do without being asked.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    It's important that your child has fun, so don't force your child to exercise. Instead, find activities that he or she likes to do and will do without being asked.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to help your child learn how to get and stay active.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

For more information, the following resources are available:

Return to topic:

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
Last Revised January 27, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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