How much exercise do kids really need?
I’m pretty sure we are all aware that physical activity is good for us adults. But actually doing what we should be doing is a different story and we’ll go there another day. But what about for our kids? This week our government published new physical activity guidelines, and instead of having you read all 118 pages, we wanted to pull out some of the highlights for you. Bottom line: most of us should be moving more. 21% of adults and less than 3 in 10 high schoolers currently meet these standards. Being physically active goes way beyond maintaining a healthy weight, so let’s up our game!
If you have a Preschooler
This is the first time the guidelines include children 3-5 years old.
Why is this important? There is now evidence to suggest that physical activity provides benefits in this age bracket too. Active kids are less likely to gain excessive weight and fat tissue, but also there are benefits in bone health. Healthy behaviors can be established early!
How much do they need? The advice is preschoolers should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development. This is ‘loosy-goosy’ but just go with it. The point is that we need to encourage kids to keep moving! Aim for 3 hours, and don’t assume this just happens. Ask your daycare or school how kids move during the day.
What counts as physical activity? Active play like jungle gyms, swimming, fort building, catch, tag, exploring
If you have a 6 to 17 year olds
Why? In this age group the list of benefits grows. Here are our favorites:
There are cognitive benefits
Exercise is connected to improved executive functioning in the brain, something that starts to develop when a child is 3 to 5 years old. These tasks include planning, organization, getting stuff done and controlling emotion. Other brain benefits of exercise documented are improved memory, speed of thinking and academics. Here, there are are a few studies that show immediate benefits. For example, after just 1 episode of exercise children performed better on an academic test compared to those that didn’t exercise!
There are sleep benefits
Exercise helps all of us fall asleep faster, stay asleep all night, get more deep sleep and be more alert during the day.
There are mental health benefits
Exercise reduces the risk of depression and in depressed people exercise reduces the intensity and frequency of depressive symptoms. The same follows with anxiety.
How much do they need? This group should exercise 60 minutes every day. As intensity goes, the experts recommend “moderate to vigorous” level of effort. There are three types of activity that should each be done three times per week: aerobic, muscle- and bone- strengthening types of activity.
Can you give me some examples?
Aerobic: basketball, biking, dancing, ice skating, soccer, swimming, tennis, walking, running or anything that increases the heart rate
Muscle-building: climbing, monkey bars, climbing stairs
Bone-building: skipping, cartwheels, jump rope, jogging
If you are pregnant and or just had a baby
What you are supposed to do: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) every week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like a brisk walk or an easy bike ride. Spread it out! Don’t do it all at once. If you are very active before pregnancy you can likely continue your routines. Talk to your doctor here, being an active runner is different than being an active rugby player. See where I’m going with this? Some sports are just better for your baby because there is less risk of contact or injury.
Why? Physically active women are less likely to gain excessive weight during pregnancy. They are also less likely to develop gestational diabetes and postpartum depression. This sounds pretty good to me!
What could moving more look like for your family?
We rounded up our favorite ideas. Remember you know your child, so keep it age appropriate.
- Try a family activity, like a weekly walk or ball game.
- Go to the mall instead of online shopping.
- Park your car at the back of the lot and walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Get an active job as a dog walker, rake the leaves, shovel snow, etc.
- Start a garden.
- Do sit ups or push ups during TV commercials.
- Sign up for a community walk. We love the Food Allergy Heroes walk!
- Active chores: unload the dishwasher, take the trash out, fold laundry
- Dance party in the living room
So get out there and move! Remember you don’t need to make the change in one day. Start small and have fun. Every movement counts.