According to the 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (a study sponsored by the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance) more than 75% of the children in America aged 6 to 15 years old don’t get enough exercise every week. Using the basic guidelines of 60 minutes of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” per day, the researchers looked at the overall physical activity levels of the average child in the U.S., which included the following factors:
- how much time they spent sitting down
- whether they walked or rode bikes or had their parents drive them to school or sports
- whether they played in sports at all
- how much time they spent playing in general
- how healthy and fit they were
- what activity resources they had in school and in their neighborhood
While 25% of the children studied got enough exercise (one hour of activity per day for at least five days each week) most children did not. Younger children tended to be more active, the study found, which makes sense – it’s the younger students who run around the most on playgrounds at recess, or in the park on the weekends. In fact, as all moms know, it’s younger kids who run around the most, period!
The Risks of Staying Still
Unfortunately, as children get older, they tend to spend less time in active, healthy play. Television and video games are part of this, but even recommended activities like reading or doing homework involve sitting down for long periods of time. Since most kids are in school and sitting down for much of the day already, it’s even more important that they have ways to get the exercise they need. For adults and children alike, too much sitting down is bad for short-term and long-term health. There have been many studies about the dangers of staying seated for hours at a time, all of which point to significant health problems. Spending too many hours sitting down without moving around leads to:
- adults and children having more than twice the risk of developing diabetes
- adults having almost twice the risk of having heart problems
- adults and children being almost 50% more likely to have a shorter lifespan
Even with a program of regular exercise, people who spend most of their time sitting down are more likely to be overweight, develop type 2 diabetes, get ill with cancer, die earlier. One reason is that sitting for a long period of time slows down your metabolism, and that affects your body’s natural ability to keep your blood pressure low and regulate your blood sugar levels.
With exercise, as with all other healthy (and unhealthy) habits that kids pick up, children are influenced by their parents. If you have an exercise routine and you stick to it (see our 7 Ways to Exercise), they’ll often follow your example. It’s even better if the exercising is something you can do together as a family.
The Family That Plays Together Stays Healthy Together
It’s not just kids who need to get up out of the chair more often. For stay-at-home moms there’s usually a lot of housework, chores, running after kids, running errands, and general busyness that keeps them on their feet. But if you’ve got a desk job, you’re spending a lot of time sitting down, too. Even if you have a job that requires you to work standing up, you may not be moving around a lot. And even if you are moving, you might not be working all of your muscles or moving your body in a good way.
That’s why spending time playing with your kids is good for you as well as your children. You can run around like a toddler, too, you know! Here are some ideas for simple activities that will get your blood moving and your kids smiling:
- Games of tag and competitive races are fun and easy for kids at any age. Challenge your older kids to match your speed – or do your best to keep up with your teenager.
- Head over to the local schoolyard or community center for a game of basketball or soccer.
- Buy some inexpensive jump ropes and see who can make the most jumps without getting tangled up. Even boys will get into this “girly” activity if you just happen to mention that many sports stars and top athletes use jump ropes for aerobic training.
- Go to your local park and run laps around the paths. Your kids can run with you, or use their skates, bikes, or even skateboards. If they’re on wheels, challenge them to beat you around the track, going two circuits for your one. If you’ve got a child in a stroller, do a slow jog or fast walk and you’ll get a good workout in your upper body at the same time.
- Dance! Music can get you going as well as relax you (see 11 Ways to Reduce Stress and Be a Better Parent). Teenagers might feel self-conscious dancing with their mom in the middle of the kitchen, but younger kids will have a great time. You’ll all be smiling and laughing in the end, and that’s good for your mental and emotional health. Plus you’ll get the physical benefits of exercise – what more do you need?
Start the Exercise Habit Young
Habits are hard to break, but can be surprisingly easy to start. Children get into habits very quickly, so the sooner they have a regular routine of exercise every day, the better. Since young children spend so much time playing naturally already, it’s simple to turn that into planned play and exercise as they get older.
Take a look at your kids and add up how many hours a day they spend:
- sitting in the classroom or studying at home
- watching television or movies
- using a computer (for games or anything else)
- sitting in a car or on a school bus
Don’t count the hours they spend sleeping, though! When you sleep, your body is restoring its natural functions. Too little sleep leads to decreased energy and brain power, and will increase the chances of illness. Studies have shown that kids need between 8 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you don’t think your kids are getting enough sleep, you can find some helpful information in this article.
No matter what age your children are, they need to get the right amount of sleep, regular exercise every day, and meals full of healthy nutrition. (You can find out more about budget-friendly healthy meal ideas in our Easy Low Cost Recipes).
Exercise Ideas For Babies and Toddlers
Healthy babies can start moving around almost as soon as they’re born. You can encourage them to be active by giving them crib toys that they can reach for or pull on. Play movement games with your baby by holding on to their feet and moving their legs back and forth, or hold one end of a toy and tug gently to stimulate the child to pull the toy back towards them. Make sure you have a safe space for them to crawl around once they get old enough to move. Bouncing baby chairs or hanging seats are great ways for babies to get into the habit of being active, and you can move the chair regularly to keep your child in view.
Once your child begins to walk, help them keep moving! When you go for a walk, don’t start them out in the stroller. Let them walk as far as they can before they climb in. If you put a child in the stroller right away, they’ll get tired just sitting down, rather than getting tired from a little light exercise. Keep increasing the weight and flexibility of their toys so that they challenge their muscles with heavier objects that require more coordination.
Many doctors recommend that toddlers who have learned to walk well should be active for at least three hours a day. There aren’t many toddlers who don’t get that much exercise anyway, but if you notice that your child tends to sit in front of the television or sit down on the floor to play with toys rather than running around, be sure to take them to the park or get them into a playtime program at your local community center. Play “catch” in the back yard, go for long walks, or just chase ducks in the park together – you’ll get the activity you need to stay healthy too.
Exercise Ideas For Children and Teens
As mentioned above, children need to get at least an hour of physical activity daily, and half of that activity should be something more than low-impact workouts like walking. It’s a good idea for kids to start working on their muscle strength, too. Doing weigh-training exercises builds muscles, but it also builds strong bones. When children have a healthy body in their late teens, it’s more likely that they’ll keep a healthy body as they grow into adults.
If it’s safe, encourage your children to walk or bike to school and back, even if the weather’s not great. The more they exercise, the easier it will be. You’ll also get the benefit of not having to add that time to your already busy schedule, and you’ll both spend less time sitting in the car.
Here are some ways that children can get the healthy exercise they need every day:
- weight lifting
- jumping rope
- jumping rope
- doing martial arts
- playing at recess
- skateboarding or rollerblading
- walking quickly
- bicycling (no hills)
- playing sports like football
- playing tag
- doing martial arts
- bicycling (with hills)
Exercise Tips For Adults
Don’t forget to track how much time you spend exercising every day! If you can’t exercise every day, make sure you get enough exercise and activity over the course of the week. Here’s what you should be aiming for every week:
- At least an hour of moderate activity
- At least half an hour of muscle-building activity
- At least an hour of vigorous activity
You’ll get the best results if you exercise every day, or do at least 30 minutes five days a week. If you have a job where you’re sitting at a desk all day, make sure you get up and move around every hour at least. If you have time to take a short break, do something that will get your blood moving and your muscles warmed up, like walking quickly up and down the hallway, or climbing up two flights of stairs and back down again.
Stay healthy, and you’ll set a good example for your kids – and they’ll learn to stay healthy, too.