There are many reasons kids should exercise regularly, such as better attention and memory, which means doing even better in school; building strong muscles, heart and lungs so kids can play at their best in their free time or on a team; and improved mood and mental health.
Exercising doesn’t just help kids now, but also affects their future health by reducing the risk of preventable diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. While it is clear that exercise is important and essential to overall health, one major question to consider is: How much exercise is enough?
In general, kids and teens should try for at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. But assessing the level of exercise intensity is also an important piece to ensuring kids are moving enough.
Exercise should be a mix of moderate and vigorous intensity (on a scale of 0-10, where 0 = sitting and 10 = highest effort possible, moderate exercise is 5-6 and vigorous exercise is 7-8). It is best to aim for moderate intensity on most days. How do you know your child is getting moderately intense physical activity? Look for a faster heart rate and breathing that is heavier than normal.
There are plenty of ways to make exercise fun and manageable for all ages, and physical activity can be done all at once or broken up throughout the day.
Physical Activity Ideas for Preschool (Ages 3-5)
For preschool age children 3 to 5 years old, activities can include tag, follow-the-leader, playing at a local park or playground and even dancing. Physical activity can be done all at once or broken up throughout the day, so consider all the movement your kids enjoy from sunrise to sundown.
Physical Activity Ideas for School Age (Ages 5-9)
Some fun exercise ideas for school-aged children 5 to 9 years old include walking, running, jumping rope, dancing, and even ball-based games like catch, basketball, or soccer. It is important to lead by example; parents need exercise, too! Your child looks up to you and if they see you exercising, they’ll want to follow your lead. So consider the impact of your habits and even enjoy some activities together.
Physical Activity Ideas for Adolescents (Ages 10-19)
Adolescents 10 to 19 years old can enjoy brisk walking, swimming and strength training exercises like pushups, pull ups, or yoga. Also consider video games that require movement and even chores around the house. You can also consider assigning kids household chores that involve greater movement, like mowing the lawn or taking the dog for a walk or run – it is an easy way to get some things checked off your to-do list and can give your four-legged friends some extra attention, too.
Overall, the key takeaway is 60 minutes of exercise for everyone, every day – or at least most days – is recommended. It is important to aim for a moderate level of exercise intensity as often as possible. It will not only help kids feel better now, but will also benefit their long-term health.
Remember not to worry too much about how kids exercise; all that matters is that they do. And most importantly, make sure they are safe, and remember to have fun!
For more information, always consult with your primary care provider and visit our healthy kids YouTube playlist.
About the Author
Dr. Maryam Hockley is a third-year pediatric resident with Valley Children’s Pediatric Residency Program. She is passionate about public health and advocating for underserved communities.
Dr. Hockley's care philosophy centers on equity and justice: “Above all, I want my patients to know me as their ally and advocate, standing beside them on their road to health, from all walks of life, backgrounds, and circumstances.”