Think about your exercise habits and routines. Chances are, they mimic your parent’s exercise style.
“It’s important to engage children in age-appropriate exercises early in life,” said Kristin Day, advanced practice nurse practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “The goal of exercise for children is to build a foundation to have a healthy lifestyle as an adult. Having your kids see you exercise is great role-modeling behavior.”
More than one-third of American youth between the ages of 10-17 are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 80 percent of overweight children will go on to become obese adults. Those are reasons early interventions are important.
Benefits to exercise for children and adults:
- Strengthens bones and muscles
- Lowers rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease
- Increases balance and coordination
- Promotes a positive self-image
- Improves behavior
- Decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), toddlers need at least 60 minutes of active play per day, and they should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, unless they are sleeping.
The AAP recommends preschoolers have 120 minutes of active play each day and school-age kids need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity.
“In general, kids younger than six should do natural physical activities—running, jumping, skipping,” said Day. “School-aged kids and teens should have a combination of aerobic activity five days per week and muscle/bone strengthening activity three days per week.”
She offered these suggestions for engaging with children.
“Share their interests. If your child has an interest in sports, play the sport with them,” she said. “Play catch in the backyard, or even sign up to coach their team. If they are not into organized sports, figure out what their interests are. Get their input! Kids, especially teens, are much more likely to engage in an activity if they feel they have been part of the decision-making process.”
She offered that exercise could be combined with other interests.
“If your child likes reading, walk to the library to check out books,” said Day. “If they are artistic or love science, take a walk through the woods and explore. Take a class together, such as yoga or martial arts. Some of the best family exercises are taking walks, hiking, biking or skiing; again following the interests of your kids.”
She also recommends joining a family organization like the YMCA or using exercise as a mode of transportation.
“Walk or bike to where you need to go,” she offered. “Take the stairs versus an elevator. Make it fun! Turn on some of your kids’ favorite music and dance. Again, set an example. Kids tend to mimic parents’ choices and routines. If they see you doing an exercise activity, they are much more likely to do the same. Establish a routine and make it non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth.”
The AAP recommends that school-aged kids and teens should be participating in muscle resistance exercises three days per week.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights,” said Day. “Many times you can use body weight resistance exercises such as push-ups or planks to achieve the same results.”
The AAP defines strength training as the use of free weights, weight machines, and body weight. It says strength training is safe if the child is old enough, has a medical checkup before starting the exercise, doesn’t over-do it, and is supervised to ensure proper technique.
Day said there aren’t any exercises that are bad for kids as long as they are age-appropriate, supervised, and if the kids are warming up and cooling down after the exercise and using appropriate safety equipment.
Day added that while regular exercise is important under normal circumstances, it is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Exercise helps boost our immune systems, which may help the body fight off infection,” she said. “It also burns calories, which helps to prevent weight gain. Overweight people have tended to have more COVID-19 complications.”
Day said exercise also reduces stress and anxiety and helps with emotional resilience, helping us keep a clear mind and stay focused. And it improves sleep.
“Our kids are always watching what we do as parents,” said Day. “If we exercise regularly and engage in sports or activities we enjoy, generally our kids will follow our example. Having good family exercise habits will go a long way toward making everyone in the family healthier and happier and set kids on a path to being healthy adults.”
Meet the Author – Kristin Day, APNP
Kristin Day has been a nurse practitioner with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics for the past 15 years. She currently works at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton, and is accepting new patients. She and her husband are the parents of teenagers aged 13 and 15. When not working, she enjoys exercising, traveling, paying the piano and home improvement projects.
ThedaCare and Go Valley Kids are teaming up in 2020 to help families be healthier, more active and enjoy Northeast and Central Wisconsin.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to a community of more than 600,000 residents in 18 counties and employs more than 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 locations including seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health care organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.