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Physical Activity for Children and Teens


How Exercise Helps Children and Teens

Children benefit from exercise and fitness as much as adults do. Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.1 And 3 or more days a week, what they choose to do should:

  • Make them breathe harder and make the heart beat much faster than normal.
  • Make their muscles stronger. For example, they could play on playground equipment, play tug-of-war, do sit-ups, or use resistance bands.
  • Make their bones stronger. For example, they could run, play hopscotch, jump rope, or play basketball or tennis.

It's okay for them to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day.

Three Types of Fitness for Children

It's important for children and teens to take part in all three types of fitness: flexibility, aerobic fitness, and muscle strengthening.

1. Flexibility

Show your children how to stretch their muscles. Let them do stretching exercises along with you. Gently correct their form when needed so that they learn good habits and understand that there is a way to do stretches that makes them most effective.

2. Aerobic exercise

Children often get aerobic activity without realizing it. Playing tag, having a squirt-gun fight, or playing catch with friends all provide aerobic exercise. Going for hikes and walking to the store also provide aerobic activity. Many schools and communities have programs for soccer, T-ball, and other activities. These are great ways for your children to get aerobic exercise and meet new friends.

3. Muscle strengthening

Bicycling, swimming, climbing, and helping in the yard or garden are just a few examples of activities that strengthen muscles.

Many children show an interest in weights. When properly supervised, weight training for children is safe and can be helpful in preparing them for sports and starting good lifetime fitness habits. Talk to your child's doctor before your child starts a weight-training program.2 This type of exercise is not right for every child.

When children work with weights:

  • Have an adult present who knows how to use weights.
  • Be sure the children learn the proper form. If they don't, they can hurt themselves. They also probably won't get the full benefit of exercising with weights if their form is wrong.
  • Only use machines that can adjust to each child's size.
  • Be sure that children don't compete with other kids or even with their own past efforts. This can cause them to push themselves beyond what is safe.
  • Be sure they don't move to heavier weights too quickly. The size of the weight is not important. Children will get stronger from weight training by doing the right number of repetitions and sets.

For more information, see the topic Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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