Exercise in children
You might think it is OK for kids not to be physically active because they are young and not ridden with clogged up arteries, but actually there are so many health benefits of exercise in children, which I will go into later (and scarily, studies have found that some kids as young as 10 years have clogged up arteries in the US).
Did you know that the recommendation for kids under 5 (who can walk) is 3 hours of physical activity a day? (Department of Health, UK) It might sound like a lot, but, as any tired moms of toddlers would know, toddlers are quite active without even trying, and on average spend about 2-2.5 hours being physically active everyday anyway. By physically active I don’t mean running or a sport, I mean, moving their bodies, using their muscles and not sitting down.
The recommendation for 5-18 year olds is a minimum of 60 minutes a day (or more).
The guideline in the US is 60 minutes minimum for children OF ALL AGES.
What are the benefits?
- Heart health is a big beneficiary of regular exercise, and since heart disease is the number 1 killer in the western world, it makes sense to get into a habit of regular exercise and build a healthy heart from a young age.
- Change our epigenetics – epigenetics determine which of our genes are expressed and which are silenced. It underlies many of the diseases that are on the rise, and preliminary studies have shown that exercise is linked with the up-regulation and expression of some beneficial genes associated with health.
- Improves bone health. Many parents worry about calcium intake in their children, especially if they have allergies and cannot drink milk. But actually that is only part of the picture. In fact, studies have found that calcium supplementation does not increase bone density and is not correlated with a reduced fracture risk. Exercise, on the other hand, stimulates bones to take up calcium to strengthen it, and has been shown in numerous studies to help increase bone density.
- Builds stronger muscles.
- A Better Immune System: Exercise boosts your bodies production of germ fighting white blood cells.
- Improves coordination. This is important for brain development, and actually a few studies have shown that children who exercised regularly had higher test scores. Childhood is a period of time when millions of neural connections are made along with growth, and exercises helps to build those neural connections as well as improve blood flow to the brain bringing important nourishment.
- Improves social skills and confidence. Studies have shown that, especially in adolescents, exercise helps to improve social skills.
- Maintain a healthy weight – and therefore reduce the incidence of obesity and the illnesses that come with it e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.
- Better sleep
- Less stress – Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones into our blood stream . This might not be so applicable to younger kids, but certainly for teens who are increasingly under more pressures (academic, social) it can be a great stress-reliever
Need ideas? I can think of no better person than Sarina from Fit Family Sydney, whose family own and operate a full time Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in the heart of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs
My name is Sarina. I am a mother of two from Sydney and one of the halves behind Fit Family Sydney along with my husband Chris.
One of my areas of passion apart from food and family is exercise for kids. Children love to play. By encouraging them, we can play a part in setting up a great foundation of values that will hopefully be long lasting (please read disclaimer at the end of the article for some exclusions)*
My Top 5 Tips for kids exercises home:
We can definitely plan and make time for structured play, but try looking at your overall day and your routine. For example some families cannot take their child to the park every single day or organise play dates, so start with home life:
- Get the Kid’s involved in basic housekeeping. Kids can help at home by passing you the laundry to hang, carrying things for you, putting things away for you, fetching items from the pantry, putting the grocery away. The list is endless.
- Teaching Life Skills To Kid’s indirectly keeps them active as well. Let me explain: Equipping a child with skills such as responsibility, independence and accountability from birth onwards can all be practiced many times a day. For example one of the first things you can do from when a child is crawling is packing away their toys. Get them to pick up a toy and bring it to you so you can put it into their toy box. Next time, get them to reach up and place it into the box. As they walk and gain confidence, get them to walk and put their toys away. This is also a great way to teach teamwork: “Mummy will help you! We can take turns placing an item into the box! My Turn… now it’s your turn!” This also helps with developing speech, emotional vocabulary, social skills and taking turns. When it is bath time, get a toddler to place their clothes into the laundry hamper. Congratulate them! Acknowledge what a big help they are to you for cleaning up after themselves. Indirectly they are moving, rather then you doing it all for them. As they reach 3 or 4 years of age get them to start pulling their bed sheets up, passing you the cushions (sure you will have to fix it later, but again a major feat to celebrate!)
Teaching your child to be responsible for their belongings and respecting your house is such a great investment. I personally have never tidied up after my kids nor will I in the future. They work together and make it a game and I am always acknowledging them and thanking them for their help. Kids should take pride in their home and their belongings. Instilling this value is important.
- Play Music. Dancing provides a lot of laughs, movement and memories! When I have to get things done or need to prepare dinner last minute and need half an hour to cook, I hand over a CD to the kids. If your kids love technology not only are they getting an indirect Tech Fix, but they are moving their bodies, singing and playing with their toys non stop!
- Balloon play for kids aged 2+. Tie up Balloons on a string. Tie them up from air con vents or another safe place. Get your child to keep the balloon from touching the floor by using their hands and feet to keep the balloon up. Can you do it 10 times? 15 times?
- Get your child involved in a sport. Find an activity that your kids can get into. It doesn’t have to be about playing a game with the purpose of winning. While learning about winning and losing games is important, at this age the goal is to encourage and celebrate movement and activity. Some great options for kids include – Dancing, Yoga, Pilates, Martial Arts and Gymnastics. Find what your child is interested in and see what local schools and clubs are available.
Here are some more specific age-specific guidelines:
Birth to 5 Years of Age
Kids under the age of 5 are recommended to get 3 hours of exercise a day (not all at once!) with a mix of structured play (play with an intent to learn) and unstructured play (letting them use their imagination to help develop skills such as Problem Solving, Creativity and Role Playing)
For Babies; tummy time, reaching for items e.g. a squeaky ball in front of them, streamers. Playing with Bubbles and supervised Bath Play
From 1 year of age: Animal Movements and imitating animals which is great fun e.g. bear walking, crab walking, monkey walking, playing with different sized ball, chasing bubbles and even playing with Kitchen Pots and Pans.
As a Child starts to walk encourage them to help you put light items away in the house; unpacking grocery, putting clothes away, make their bed.
5-12 Years of Age
At this age kids will begin to attend Primary School so they will be introduced to some forms of exercise and movement. The Australian New South Wales Education Standards list that children in primary school should be getting 1.5 to 2.5 hours per week (however it should also be noted that the allocation of hours is up to the teacher and the school policy). We cannot assume that children will be moving and playing during their break times as kids choose to use their break time in accordance with the interests, their friends, and weather/resources available.
For this age group we should be aiming for a minimum of 1 hour a day and for added health benefits up to several hours a day. Activities should be varied and include exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity as this is where we can achieve great health benefits. As this age group will be at school, try walking to and from the car for drop off and pick up’s. A 10 minute walk every morning and afternoon is a great way for parent and child to get in some extra exercise and serves as an opportunity for bonding with a morning or afternoon chat.
At this age we should also be getting kids involved in Resistance or Weight Bearing Activities with the purpose of strengthening their Musculoskeletal system. At this age we are not recommending kids to lift weights for muscle hypertrophy. Pre-Pubescent Children are prone to an increase risk of injury due to over exertion, and they lack the male hormone testosterone that contributes to muscle gain. Any activity your child participates in should be safe and appropriate for the age and ability. Instead, focus on activities that will naturally create resistance such as Monkey Bars, Pull Up’s, Climbing and Jumping. Most Kid’s Play Equipment at your local park will have these items. I also like to introduce exercises such as squats, planks and sit up’s for Children.
13-17 Years of Age
As Children move into High School, they begin to become more independent as they become young teenagers. At this stage they are possibly juggling School Work and Study, a Paid Job, and maybe even extra curricular activities such as Sport and Music. Because of this, there may be difficulty to find the time to fit in regular exercise – unless they belong to the group who participate in Sport outside of school. The 60 minutes a day of exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity is still advisable with at least 3 of those days during the week dedicated at strengthening muscles and bones. If you haven’t commenced yet, now is a great time to introduce Children to some staple body weight exercises such as plank’s, push ups, sit ups and squats. A lot of clubs will do this as part of their training so your child can learn proper technique and safety perform them at home.
This age range can be a sensitive time for some teens as their bodies begin to change and they become more and more conscious of how they look compared to their peers. Because of this we don’t want to continuously mention words such as “exercise” and “looking good” – remember we want to embed a healthy attitude towards exercise and movement from a young age so that as kids grow older, they will always seek ways to get out and be active. What we are trying to communicate with Children is that exercise is needed to keep our bodies strong and fit. A strong and fit body will do wonders for the inside of the body promoting a healthy heart and helping to fight sickness.
For my family, we love being active, we love eating nutritious foods, and we love doing it all together. Exercise and movement doesn’t have to be boring, it just needs to be something that we enjoy doing. Whether its long walks, bike riding, or punching a bag, exercise is one component that helps keep us fit, healthy and feeling young. The key to getting kids involved is to start young and to do it as a family – we model our behaviour for our children to mimic. We use words such as ‘Thank You’ and ‘Please’ to model behaviour, so why not show the kids that as parents we’re also trying to live a healthy and active lifestyle? For more inspiration and some seriously tasty food ideas for all follow us @fitfamilysydney
*As with any guideline you read, this is a general overview of how much exercise children should be accumulating in a day to take advantage of the wide range of health benefits associated with exercise and movement. It is important to note that these guidelines are in place to help families assess whether their child is getting enough. It should also be noted that every child is different and that should also be taken into consideration.
Please note that as per the Guidelines: these apply to all young people, irrespective of cultural background, gender or ability. Remember if your child has a medical condition, you must always consult with an accredited Medical Professional regarding exercise and their condition and remember to always receive clearance before commencing a new activity. In the case of older children who are more sedentary, we would recommend starting at a light intensity and slowly build up over time. Remember exercise should always be safe and age appropriate.