Did you know that a child needs physical activity to grow and develop properly? Humans of all ages benefit from physical activity. And in fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “physically inactive people are more likely to get very sick.”
The health benefits of physical activity in children (and in adults too, since many of the benefits are the same regardless of your age) include:
- Improves attention and memory, which in kids can translate to better academic performance
- Improves brain health and reduces the risk of depression
- Builds strong muscles and increases endurance
- Improves your blood pressure and aerobic fitness so the heart and lungs stay healthy
- Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels
- Strengthens bones
- Helps regulate body weight and reduce body fat
- Reduces the risk of several chronic diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity
The amount of physical activity children need depends on their age.
Physical Activity for Children Ages Toddler Through 5
These children need to stay active throughout the day to help with their growth and development. Kids Health recommends that the physical activity guidelines for kids in this age group include at least 30 minutes of structured, adult-led activities, at least 60 minutes of unstructured, active free play, and for children not be inactive for more than an hour at a time unless they are sleeping.
Not only do children in this age group need a lot of movement, they also need a variety of movement to keep them engaged and to develop lots of skills. For example, you can have toddlers and preschoolers act like their favorite animals and gallop, hop, crawl, run, slither, etc. Or you could have them keep a balloon or a ball in the air and not let it touch the ground. Or kick a ball in a yard or against a wall. Or they can chase bubbles or have a dance party, ride a bike, do a bean bag toss, and much, much more.
Physical Activity for Children Ages 6 through 17
The CDC lumps all school-aged children into one activity category, and says that these children need a minimum of sixty minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day. These minutes need to include aerobic activity such as walking, running, hiking, jumping jacks, skating, bike riding, cross-country skiing, martial arts, soccer, swimming, tennis, basketball, vigorous dancing, or anything that makes the heart beat faster and three days a week this should be at a vigorous intensity (not just mild or moderate).
Also, three days a week, physical activity should include muscle-strengthening exercises, such as climbing, doing push-ups, sit-ups, lifting weights, pull-ups, tug of war, using resistance bands and one’s own body weight, some forms of yoga, or anything that helps maintain and build muscles. And lastly, at least three days per week children should so physical activity that strengthens their bones. This could include running, jumping, jumping rope, or doing any sports that involve rapid changes in direction and/or jumping (such as hockey or basketball).
And if you aren’t sure if your child is exercising at a mild, moderate, or vigorous rate, you can do a simple talk test. Ask the child something and see how they are able to answer. The CDC says the intensity is mild to moderate if the child is able to talk during the activity, and if the child can talk but not sing, it is moderate. If the intensity is vigorous, the child may be able to talk but will not be able to say more than few words without pausing to take a breath.
Children who start life building habits of physical activity often stay healthier than those who don’t and also often maintain their habits of being physically activity into their adulthood. So if you have children, encourage them to get moving, be active, play, and have fun. And that’s one way to champion their wellness.
And if you haven’t read it yet, check out our article on how sunlight benefits children. Click here.