How Active Do Your Kids Need to Be?

During the summer break, children are parked in front of the television or computer more than ever, but inactivity at any age can result in developing chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Inactivity can lead to lifelong habits, so here’s how active your kids need to be.

How Active  School-age children need to participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Exercise should be appropriate for their age and level of development as well as enjoyable and safe.

How Inactive  Children should spend less than two hours per day doing sedentary non-academic activities, such as watching television and playing video or computer games.

Better in School  An ACSM research study found that kids that engage in vigorous activity for 20 minutes, at least 3 days a week, did better in school than kids that participated in moderate activity (3-6 METs) for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

Per the study, children are better able to concentrate, and even exhibit fewer behavioral problems, when they participate in higher intensity exercise. Vigorous exercise (> 6 METs) includes physical activities like:   

  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Ice skating
  • Beach volleyball
  • Baseball
  • Softball
  • Singles tennis

Encourage your child to take part in a school or club sport that he/she enjoys if your child’s school isn’t offering enough physical activity. Non-athletic kids can participate in non-competitive activities (e.g., biking, swimming, jogging, dancing, or playing games like tag).

*MET or metabolic equivalent is a physiological value based on the amount of oxygen used by the body to perform physical work. It’s a way to express an activity’s level of intensity and is relative to a resting value. For example, a task with a MET value of 1 is roughly equivalent to the energy expended (oxygen used) while sitting quietly. An activity with a MET value of 2 (such as walking slowly) requires twice the energy you would expend just sitting and watching TV. In comparison, swimming laps (freestyle) may have a MET value of 10.

More Toys  To find effective ways to increase your child’s exercise time, look at toy variety. A University of Buffalo study observed the effects of toy quantities  and found that children, ages 8-12, were more active when they had more toys (3-5 toys versus just one). Girls were especially motivated by having a greater choice of active toys to play with compared to boys.

How Many Steps Are Enough?  Pedometers are a fun way for your kids to monitor their activity levels and motivate them to get in more exercise, especially if he/she is trying to lose weight. For ideal BMI, the minimum recommended daily steps for 6-12 year-old children are 12,000-15,000 steps/day which is considered ‘highly active’. Less than 5,000 steps a day is considered ‘sedentary’ and 10,000 steps (about five miles) is ‘active’.

Strength Training  There’s compelling evidence that children can benefit from strength training. Strength training is a muscle and bone strengthening activity. It can be a safe and effective way to provide health and fitness value if children are supervised and taught the proper way to lift weights.

Exercise and Nutrition  Nutrition plays a key role in exercise. They are intimately related. Think of exercise and nutrition like two wheels on a bicycle. If one is inadequate or faulty, you’ll end up with a dysfunctional bicycle.

Kids need fuel to have the energy to be physically active. Performance nutrition (which is a separate subject in itself) can enhance your child’s general health, maximize adaptations to training, fuel performance, enhance post-exercise recovery, and prevent injuries and sickness. When kids feel good and perform well, they’ll have more fun!

Sedentary Lifestyle  A sedentary child is likely to become a sedentary adult and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a shorter life. A study by the American Cancer Society found that men who sat more than six hours a day AND worked out had an 18% higher risk of death than men who sat less than three hours per day. Men who sat more than six hours a day and did NOT work out, had an almost 50% higher risk of death.

According to the study, prolonged sitting time — independent of physical activity — can affect the following biomarkers of obesity, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases:

  • Triglycerides
  • High density lipoprotein
  • Cholesterol
  • Fasting plasma glucose
  • Resting blood pressure
  • Leptin

Start the Cycle  Children who grow up being active are likely to grow up being active adults. By engaging in activities with your kids, you can make physical activity a memorable family affair. It’s a great way to spend time together, connect and be entertained. Great family activities include: hikes, biking, neighborhood/nature walks, scavenger hunts, swimming, canoeing, skiing, and snow shoeing.

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