Fitness for children is different than jogging or weight lifting that adults do. Fitness (exercise) for children means being regularly active or playing sports. It includes riding a bike, dancing or maybe just chasing a friend or pet. Sitting on the couch playing video games is not exercise even if it is Madden Football. 
 
According to the CDC obesity now affects roughly 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the United States. This is a staggering number. This obesity is brought on mostly by children leading more sedentary lives. Spending time in front of their cell phone or on social media instead of being outside moving. More screen time than active time is bad! For more on the statistics on childhood obesity read here
 
In order to understand the importance of fitness for children, we need to first look at what makes up fitness. 
 

There are five basic elements of fitness

 

Cardiovascular Endurance (breathing)

Cardiovascular endurance encompasses the heart and lungs working together as one cohesive unit to supply you the blood and oxygen needed. Therefore, activities like running, swimming or biking are cardiovascular endurance activities.  

 

Muscle Endurance

The ability for your muscles to do a specific activity without getting tired. Similarly, using a stair-climbing machine or elliptical machine take muscle endurance. Also any form of repetitions with weights. 

 

Muscle Strength

Muscle strength is the output of your muscles or the force you can generate with a specific movement. Lifting weights is a prime example of muscular endurance. For instance, a bench press or leg press takes muscle strength. 

 

Flexibility

Flexibility is the movement of a specific joint or body part through a full range of motion. Therefore activities such as bending forward and being able to touch your toes is a form of flexibility. 

 

Body Composition 

Body composition is the amount of muscle compared to fat. This is typically measured in BMI (Body Mass Index). There are several other methods for measuring body mass such as underwater weighing and skin-fold measures however BMI seems to be the easiest gauge.  

 

Why is fitness for children important? 

  • Children who are active 60 minutes per day have fewer occurrences of obesity.
  • Children who are more active tend to do better in school. 
  • Activity helps the brain to develop. 
  • Frequent physical activity has been associated with improved classroom behavior.
  • Active children tend to become active adults which is important as we age.
  • Frequent exercise decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety in children (and adults). 
  • Regular exercise with children promotes positive self-image.
  • Exercise will help promote good sleep patterns. 

 

How much exercise is enough?

As parents, our goals is to make sure that our children get enough exercise. Typically 60 minutes of moderate physical activity is a good daily target for older children and teens. Preschool-age children and toddlers should be playing actively by themselves or with other children several times a day for at least 60-120 minutes at a time. Try to arrange playdates when possible or engage your children in activities you can do together like walking or playing a game outside. 

 

What types of exercise should children be doing

As discussed earlier children need exercise and fitness for many reasons including building strength and flexibility, as well as confidence. They are also starting a lifestyle that hopefully will continue well into adulthood. The goal should be that they are involved in a good mix of sports and activities that they enjoy. Don’t force them to do a sport they don’t want to just because you do it as a child.

According to experts in the space:

  • most of the activities should focus on aerobic activities using large muscle groups like legs. Therefore activities like running and dancing are perfect. 
  • Children will build muscle naturally through running, jumping, swimming etc. so they do not need formal weight training programs. Those can wait a bit until they are older. (middle school and high school age and go light on the weight at first)
  • Team sports such as soccer, lacrosse, football and baseball help to build strength while also teaching children valuable lessons like sportsmanship and working together.   

 

READ MORE ON CHILDREN AND WEIGHTS

 

They can’t be active all the time

As great as it is to involve your children in team sports or dance or anything where they burn energy outside the home it isn’t enough. They may only practice twice a week and that leaves 5 other days that need some sort of activity and exercise. It’s the downtime where children go back to their cell phones and waste time watching TV. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have time to relax and unwind but it should not be the majority fo their life. 

 

So how can we keep our kids active at home?

  • Make sure the children are helping with household chores. Gardening, mowing the lawn (if they are old enough), vacuuming. Anything to keep them moving. 
  • Take walks after dinner or make them responsible for taking the dog for a walk each day for an hour. 
  • Get them outside to play with their friends. Play tag, skateboard, gymnastics, ride bikes.
  • Be active together. As a parent, you need to be a positive role model and get moving as well. Participate in activities together. Have a catch or play tag with them. Just warm up first. Us older folks need to stretch a bit more before starting any rigorous activity. Yoga is another great activity that you can do together with your children. 
  • Have an assortment of sports-related items that they can use. You don’t need to go out and buy a full street hocket goalie set up. Just have an assortment of balls, jump ropes or anything they might need to keep active. In my shed, I still have a drawstring bag that I had as a child to hold baseballs, softballs and tennis balls. 
  • Go to the local playground or go hiking. Try your hand at an indoor gym that offers gymnastics or rock climbing. Maybe even ice-skating or roller skating. 

 

Conclusion

Fitness for children is important as it helps build strength, endurance, flexibility, and muscle that they need to develop into adults. It also provides them self confidence and a way of living that can carry on with them throughout their adult life. Start your kids off early on the road to living a healthy lifestyle and being the best they can be. 

What do you do with your children to keep them active? Let us know in the comment section.

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