Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill or lifting weights. But for children, exercise means playing and being physically active. Children exercise when they have physical education at school, soccer practice, or dance class. They’re also exercising when they’re playing during school break times, riding bikes, or playing tag.
Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. A child who is active will:
- have stronger muscles and bones
- have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
- be less likely to become overweight
- decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
- have a better outlook on life
In addition to the health benefits of regular exercise, children who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle the physical and emotional challenges that a typical day presents – be that running to catch a bus, bending down to tie a shoe lace, or studying for a test.
If you’ve ever watched children on a playground, you’ve seen the three elements of fitness in action.
- runs away from the child that’s “it” (endurance)
- crosses the monkey bars (strength)
- bends down to tie his or her shoes laces (flexibility)
It is imperative that parents encourage their children to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements.
Endurance is developed when someone regularly engages in aerobic activity (aerobic means “with air”). During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for continuous periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and children.
Some examples of aerobic activities include:
Improving strength doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Although some children benefit from resistance training, it must be done under the supervision of an experienced adult who works with children. Generally, children don’t need a formal weight-training program to be strong. Push-ups, stomach crunches, pull-ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Children naturally incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle.
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Children look for opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split, or flip over the couch.
How much exercise is enough for your child?
The percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Although many factors are contributing to this epidemic, children are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they’re sitting around a lot more than they used to.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the average child is watching about 3 hours of television a day. And the average child spends 5.5 hours on all media combined, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Parents need to ensure that their children are getting enough exercise. So, how much is enough? According to the 2005 dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), all children 2 years and older should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Also, here are the current activity recommendations for children, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE):
|AGE||MINIMUM DAILY ACTIVITY||COMMENTS|
|Infant||No specific requirements||Physical activity should encourage motor development|
|Toddler||1.5 hours||30 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)|
|Preschooler||2 hours||60 minutes planned physical activity AND 60 minutes unstructured physical activity (free play)|
|School age||1 hour or more||Break up into bouts of 15 minutes or more|
It is also important to remember that young children should not be inactive for prolonged periods of time – no more than 1 hour unless they’re sleeping. And school-age children should not be inactive for periods longer than 2 hours.
One of the best ways to get children to be more active is to limit the amount of time spent in sedentary activities, especially watching TV or playing video games. The AAP recommends that children under the age of 2 years watch no TV at all and that screen time should be limited to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day for children 2 years and older.