Before the advent of computers, carpools and social media, kids got exercise without moms having to schedule it. Walking to and from school provided a workout every day, especially with side trips to the playground. Today, texting often replaces bike riding to a friend’s house and computer games might keep kids from joining real sports teams. Although kids today grow up with more sources of entertainment than ever before, physical activity is better for their health.
Kids need exercise to promote healthy growth, build bone and muscle strength, increase motor coordination and learn life skills. Children who spend too much time on the computer playing video games, instead of playing, lack physical fitness. According to the Let’s Move website, only 30 percent of high school students get enough exercise.
Aerobic exercise gets you moving and uses all the major muscle groups in your body. Your heart pumps faster and you breathe more deeply during moderate aerobic exercise. Kids build strength when they run or pull themselves up onto jungle gyms or do tumbling routines in gymnastics. Kids sometimes blend strength-building exercise into casual playtime. Building bone strength is another important aspect of exercise. Children need weight-bearing activities to trigger bone development.
Physiological benefits of exercise include increased heart and lung health and capacity. Aerobic exercise aids and increases blood circulation and the development of capillaries that enrich muscles with oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. Physical activity helps regulate weight in children and so helps prevent obesity and weight-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. Exercise also helps keep arteries clear and lower blood cholesterol. Originally, thought a condition just associated with older adults, elevated cholesterol levels are now being diagnosed in some inactive and overweight kids, doctors are now finding. Exercise also has psychological benefits for children. It builds self-esteem, boosts and regulates mood and gives kids a healthy outlet to work out their feelings.
Children need 60 minutes or more per day of aerobic activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ideally, part of those 60 minutes includes some muscle-strengthening exercise, such as gymnastics, at least three times a week. Include bone-strengthening exercise, such as jumping, rope skipping or running, into the aerobic activity at least three times a week, too.
Certain conditions, such as childhood asthma, sometimes keep kids on the sidelines during physical activity. Check with your family physician if your child says she does not want to exercise or expresses concern about a particular type of exercise. Allowing you child to choose what type of activity she engages in helps keep her interested and active. One type of activity is not for pre-adolescents, advices the CDC. Weight lifting should wait until a child is in his teens.