When it comes to physical activities for older children and adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least 60 minutes of exercise and/or active play every day for children. For children, their idea of physical education is walking between classrooms at school, or walking around their house on the weekend – but it’s more intense than that.
Exercise has a lot of benefits, besides the obvious weight maintenance or control and building of muscle. Exercise improves our mood, decreases depression and anxiety and develops motor skills and dexterity. It is critical for the health of our cardiovascular system. Team sports make your child feel as if he/she is part of a group and teaches him or her how to work with others.
Exercise for your child should be moderate to vigorous, which means your child should break a sweat and breathe harder than normal while doing this activity. And, contrary to rumor, your child doesn’t have to complete all exercise in one time period but can spread it throughout an entire day. 30 minutes running around at recess, 10 minutes walking to and from class, and 20 minutes playing basketball with friends in the driveway all add up to 60 minutes of exercise.
PE class at school is also a fairly consistent time to get exercise, but just because the class may be 60 minutes in duration doesn’t mean your child is moderately or vigorously exercising the entire time. Keep that in mind when you are evaluating your child’s daily physical exercise needs.
When it comes to working with patients where incorporating consistent exercise is difficult, I ask them why they don’t exercise. Their answer often is, “well I need to run, but I hate to do it.” Exercise should never be something your child hates. Help your child come up with activities that they look forward to and enjoy and that will make them much more likely to want to do the activites later.
Another big reason why children don’t get out to play is video games. They quickly become addictive and can be hard to put down. As a parent or caregiver, try having a heart-to-heart with your child and discuss the importance of exercise and daily movement. Consider setting a timer that limits the amount of time your child can play the video game, and then shut it off and encourage them to get outside. If your child hasn’t been exercising routinely, then consider smaller increments of time, like 10 minutes, and work your child up to a full 60 minutes of exercise daily.
There are many different types of exercises that are great for children. Aerobic exercises may include hiking, running, roller skating, dancing, jump rope, bike riding, brisk walking, martial arts, soccer, swimming, tennis – the list goes on and on. Muscle-building exercises include push-ups, sit-ups, rope or tree climbing, and games like tug-of-war, among others. Help your child find something they really enjoy, and bonus – if the whole family likes to do it, then you will be much more likely to incorporate that activity into your family’s daily life.
The most important thing you can do is continue to help encourage your child or adolescent to be active and energetic. For more tips and advice, join the Delta Health Pediatrics Facebook Group and meet a community of parents, caregivers and healthcare providers. You can also make an appointment at Delta Health Pediatrics by calling 970.546.4000 or visit deltahealthco.org/delta-health-pediatrics/.
Dr. Amanda Lovette is a Pediatrician at the Delta Health Pediatrics clinic located in Delta, Colorado. Lovette specializes in the general healthcare needs of infants, children and adolescents.