How Much Exercise Do Children Need?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Children need more exercise than you might first expect. This lesson points out what types of exercises they need, how much, and a sample plan that puts everything together.

Exercise for Adults

If you're an adult, you've probably heard that you need at minimum 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week to reap some of the benefits of exercise, such as improved heart health as well as muscle and bone strength. Now, children and adolescents are obviously smaller than adults and younger. Thus, it seems logical that they need a bit less exercise than adults, right? Nope. Not even close.

Let's see exactly how much they need and why.

Exercise for Children

Children and adolescents who are 6-17 years of age need aerobic exercise to build their heart, lung, and blood vessel health. They also need muscle-strengthening exercise to build strong muscles and tendons, which are strong cords of tissue that attach muscle to bone. And that brings me to the fact that they also need bone-strengthening exercises to build healthy bones.

Aerobic exercises include the ones that make you huff and puff, sweat, and your heart race really fast. Such exercises involve the movement of the body's muscles in a rhythmic way for a long period of time. This type of exercise improves a person's endurance. This means kids will be able to run, play, and exercise for longer without tiring. That may be a parent's worst nightmare if she's trying to put the kids to bed, but it's a kid's best friend in terms of benefits to his health. Aerobic exercise includes running (and sports that include sustained running like soccer), riding a bike, swimming, and even brisk walking.

Muscle strengthening exercises are those that work important muscle groups of the body. These are the ones found in the legs and hips, shoulder and arms, abdomen, chest, and back. Such exercises increase our skeletal muscle mass (how big they are), strength, endurance, and power. Skeletal muscles are the muscle that are under voluntary control, the ones that help your child move around. For kids, muscle strengthening exercises include running, be it really fast for short distances, or a bit slower but for longer distances. It also includes playing on the jungle gym, playing tennis, using the monkey bars, gymnastics, climbing a tree, push-ups, sit-ups and once they're old enough, lifting weights.

Finally, there are the bone strengthening exercises. These are obviously exercises that help strengthen a child's bones as they grow and set them up for a healthier future by decreasing the risk of developing fractures and even disease like osteoporosis. These exercises include everything from lifting weights to running to jumping rope. Many exercises that involve muscle strength naturally improve bone strength as well.

Of course, let's also remember to stretch! Stretching, according to some, may help decrease injuries. At the minimum, it improves a child's flexibility. Besides doing stretches prior to exercise, children can also engage in yoga to help with this as well. Flexibility improves children's range of motion and may help them perform better in some sports as a result. Including stretches or yoga when a child is young may set her life up for including such exercises as part of a daily routine when she is an adult, which will help her stay nimble as she ages.

How Much Exercise Do Children Need?

So, how much exercise do children need then? Well, it turns out the official recommendations (by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for children are more than they are for adults. First, children and adolescents need to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every single day. You read that right. Every day. 1 hour minimum.

The majority of the 60 minutes or more needs to be made up of moderate intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running. Vigorous-intensity physical activity needs to be part of their exercise at least 3 days a week.

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