Physical activity for children
physical; activity; exercise; obesity; weight; stress; sport ;
Exercise is good for growing children as well as for adults. It keeps muscles stronger, increases flexibility and makes them feel better.
Apart from these important health benefits, exercise also:
- helps children to develop social skills such as sharing, taking turns, cooperating and learning about winning and losing
- helps children to develop physical skills such as running, eye-hand coordination and ball skills
- helps children to get a sense of belonging as they do things with other children, either in casual or organised activities and sports
- helps families when parents exercise with their children or when parents support their child's sport.
Exercise is also a good stress reliever. If a child is having difficulty sleeping, concentrating or with friendships, exercise can relieve some of the stress.
Increasing overweight and obesity is happening world wide. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have health problems. Helping young children to develop good eating patterns and enjoyment from sport and exercise may help them avoid later health problems.
much physical activity?
- Children (and adults) should be active every day in as many ways as they can.
- Each day school-aged children and teenagers should have at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity to ensure healthy development. This does not need to be done all at one time, it can be spread over the day.
- School aged children can also benefit from organised sports or activities such as dance or ball sports, according to their interests, for three or more sessions of twenty minutes or more per week. However most primary school aged children are much more active than this. In high school, it is more important to encourage them to stay active.
- It is important that children are enjoying the activity and that it is not more demanding or competitive than they feel comfortable with.
- If exercise is starting to take over a child's life it is possible that the child is overexercising. It may also be possible that the child is fearful of the coach or other team members, or something else is wrong. If this is happening with your child talk with him or her about it, and perhaps check it out with other parents.
- Adults are advised to exercise for at least 30 minutes, three or more times a week. Exercise several more times a week is probably even more valuable if it is enjoyable and if it is not causing pain or distress.
For more information: Department of Health and Aging (Australia)
- Young children are usually active, but even young children can spend a lot of time being inactive by watching TV, videos or playing computer games.
- Young children are more likely to be active if their family, including their parents, are active.
- Young children are not ready for competitive sport until they are at least 8 or 9, and sometimes older. See the topic 'Sport for children' for more information about knowing when children may be ready for competitive sport.
- While young children are very interested in rules, they usually cannot follow rules until they are older. They like to make the rules up, and change them if they are not 'winning'. This is very normal. See the topic 'Winning, losing and cheating'.
- Active children are more likely to become active adults, but anyone can benefit from taking up exercise.
for children under about 8 years
- Walk, skip, cycle, use a scooter or run places instead of going in the car
- Kick, throw, hit balls
- Look for local playgrounds
- Water activities can be fun, but need to be supervised always
- Dancing, gymnastics, callisthenics or martial arts at a beginning, non-competitive level. Many very young children enjoy kinder-gyms
- Take pets for a walk or run.
- Many children will be ready for competitive sport by 9 or 10 years old, but they may need modified rules to help skills development and to protect them from injury.
- Most primary school aged children will still need to have a lot of additional activity from running, playing, ball games etc.
- Being a member of an active family is still a very valuable way of keeping active.
* Some children are put off from sport or really stressed by parents who become over-involved and competitive and try to push them to do things they aren't ready for or interested in. If you find yourself wanting to push your child or getting angry with your child or the coach at team competitions, take a step back and look at what you really want for your child, what your child really wants and how best to make it happen.
- Always prepare for sport by stretching and warming up, and also 'warm down' [some gentle exercise before and after really stressing muscles and joints].
- Warm ups: stretches of the muscles that will be used during the exercise, such as muscles in the legs and back, plus some gentle aerobic exercise, such as slow jogging.
- Warm downs: some more slow jogging, then again stretches of legs, back and shoulders which help to prevent muscle soreness after exercise.
- Make sure that protective gear is always worn such as shin pads, knee pads, mouthguards or helmets.
- Exercise should always stop if a child is in pain, feeling dizzy or faint, feels sick or very tired.
- It is best to avoid exercise, or only train very lightly, if the child is unwell, such as if the child has a cold or bronchitis.
There are many activities that can take time away from exercise. Some of these are valued activities such as playing calm games with friends, reading, making music, doing homework, but some are activities that may need to be limited.
Some activities that can take over children's time.
- Computer games
- The Internet
- Too much homework and coaching.
Most children with asthma will wheeze at least some of the time during vigorous exercise. It is very important not to let this get in the way of exercising, because being fit can help with asthma control (as well as being healthy in the other ways listed above).
- Check with your doctor, and make a plan about asthma management for exercise. Many children benefit from using a reliever medication about 15 minutes before exercise.
- Warm up carefully, breathing through the nose which keeps the air entering the bronchi (airways) warmer.
Some children who have not been diagnosed with asthma also wheeze during exercise. These children need to be seen by their doctor, because they may have exercise-induced asthma, and they may be able to be more active if they also use some reliever medication before exercise.
See the topics Asthma in childhood or Asthma in adolescents.
- Some young people can exercise much more than is healthy in an attempt to control their weight or appearance. Over-exercise can be similar in effects to anorexia nervosa. Many young people with anorexia nervosa also over-exercise. See the topic Eating disorders.
- Exercising too much can cause excessive weight loss, overuse injuries and hormonal imbalances (such as preventing periods).
- A sign of over-exercising can be that the exercise is getting in the way of normal activities, such as not having time to be with friends.
- Another sign can be refusing to stop exercise even when the person is in pain from injuries.
- Helping a young person cut back on over-exercising can be as difficult as helping someone with anorexia nervosa. Seek advice from your doctor.
- Show children that you think physical activity is important by being active yourself.
- Join in active play with children.
- Take your children to playgrounds. Explore your local area for new playgrounds.
- Walk the dog if you have one.
- Encourage children to help you in the garden or give them a small garden plot of their own.
- Teach your children the skills for the sports they want to play and practice with them if they enjoy this.
- Walk and cycle with children. Make sure the family has the right safety equipment.
- Plan special outdoor activities such as picnics at the beach (with swimming), a walk in a national park, ball games with children and their friends, mystery walks following a map.
- Support your children's sport. Show you are interested. Help with transport to sport, and stay and watch.
- Help children think of active alternatives to try when they are bored or have been sitting too long.
- Do something active on family outings, eg walk to the cinema or the shops when you can.
- Encourage your child's school to include physical activity every day.
Asthma SA. 'Preparing for exercise'
National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health (USA). Knowledge Path in physical activity for children.
World Health Organisation. 'Diet and physical activity: a public health priority.'
World Health Organisation 'Myths about physical activity' http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_myths/en/index.html
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.