Kids and Exercise, Growth and Development

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Pediatric experts agree that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can help keep kids healthy. In 2005, a 13-member panel of pediatric experts issued a strong recommendation that school-age children engage in a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, which is now the official recommendation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These agencies recommend that all children 2 years of age and older should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week.

This "moderate-to-vigorous" level of physical activity can be achieved by brisk walking, jumping rope, or playing basketball, soccer, or other sports.

Pediatric experts note that while children take in essentially the same number of calories as always, their amount of physical activity is drastically lower than that of children 10 to 20 years ago. The technology revolution has lead to an increase in the number of popular activities for children (such as video gaming and computer use) that do not require physical effort.

To arrive at these recommendations, members of the expert pediatric panel reviewed thousands of published research reports that examined the relationship of physical activity to children's mental and physical health.

Theoretically, 60 minutes of physical activity could be achieved by participation in school activities through a combination of daily physical-education classes, after-school sports programs, and recess activities. Unfortunately, physical education is not taken seriously by many schools or is allowed to slide when a student experiences academic difficulties.

Parents can also take steps to help encourage their children to be physically active and to promote youth fitness in general:

  • Support physical education programs in the schools. Communicate to your child's teachers and administrators your belief that PE is an important part of the curriculum.

  • Visit your child's physical-education classes as well as classes in academic subjects and show your support.

  • Encourage participation in school and community sports programs. Many communities offer sports programs geared toward a child's ability level and personality, rather than grouping all children of the same age together.

  • Volunteer to coach or referee in an after-school sports league.

  • Plan family activities, such as hiking or cycling, that allow the family to exercise together. Include physical activity in your vacation plans.

  • Start a tradition of an after-dinner walk through the neighborhood.

  • Children can get bored easily from the same routine. Expose your child to a variety of physical activities and sports. Participating in a variety of activities also improves all-around fitness.

  • Encourage the construction of community parks, bike paths, and sports facilities in your neighborhood.

Finally, practice what you preach. You are a major role model for your children. Your exercising provides the best possible example for your child.

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Reference: "Physical Activity Recommendations for School-Age Youth." Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 146, Number 6 (June 2005).

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