According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents should participate in at least 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily (1).
However, less than 24% of children ages 6-17 meet this daily requirement (1). While community leaders and key stakeholders work to improve these statistics, parents can and should do their part. Here are practical tips to help build a foundation of success for childhood development.
Benefits of Exercise on Child Development
Physical activity and exercise have positive effects on both physiological and psychological aspects in the development of a child. Positive effects include (1):
- Improvement in sleeping habits
- Limiting the risk of obesity
- Limiting the risk of chronic disease
- Reducing anxiety
- Reducing depression
- Promoting healthy bone growth and muscle development
The benefits of physical activity extend to the classroom as well. School districts, once crunched to find time for physical education, have begun to incorporate structured mental breaks, between 5-20 minutes, which range from hikes outside to dance-offs. These mental breaks help kids to expend energy and keeps them calm and focused throughout the day, while also promoting physical activity (2).
Now more than ever, being a role model to kids by coaching sports or further encouraging fitness is crucial!
Exercises: When, What and How Often
When it comes to program design for kids, physical activity can begin as early as preschool (ages 3-5) and includes a variety of activities such as active play time at the park or in the backyard.
As a child develops (ages 6-17 years old), enjoyable, moderate-to-vigorous activities for 60-minutes a day should be encouraged. Activities may include:
At least 3 times per week, children should participate in vigorous aerobic activity. Additionally, muscle-strengthening activities can be included 3 days a week (3).
It is important to note that while it is recommended for children to begin strength training, kids between the ages of 6 to puberty should focus on body weight exercises which increase their balance and stability and less on lifting heavy weights or power type movements.
Examples of body weight exercises for kids:
- Single Leg Balance in front of a mirror
- Learning how to jump and land on 2 legs
- Learning how to jump and land on 1 leg
Each of these exercises should be executed in a slow and controlled manner, with low sets (1-2) and high repetitions (12-20). This form of training is vital in child development as you are building a stable foundation for heavier lifting down the road.
Physical activity and exercises should be challenging, but parents should recognize when a child is not having fun. Children should be encouraged to participate in activities that they are interested in and enjoy.
Warm-Up and Cool Down Routines
In addition to building behaviors which promote an active lifestyle, it is important to also develop an adequate warm-up and cool down routine. This routine should be completed prior to and after any moderate to vigorous intensity activities and includes foam rolling, static stretching, dynamic movements and activation exercises.
An ideal warm-up program should be 15-20 minutes in length. To get started, here is an example of a warm-up routine:
Hold on tender area for 30-45 seconds:
Hold for 30 seconds:
- Kneeling Hip Flexor
Perform 8-12 reps per movement:
- 1-2 laps around the gym or field
- Hip Swings (front-back, side-side)
- Squat to Calf Raise
- Lunge to Single Leg Balance
- Walking Lunge with Twist
- Alternate Leg Bounding with Stabilization
- Walking Lunge with Overhead Reach
- High Knee Skipping
- Single Leg Front-Back Hop (Right Leg to Left Leg) with Stabilization
- Single Leg Front-Back Hop (Left Leg to Right Leg) With Stabilization
- Single Leg Side-Side Hop (Right Leg/Left Leg) with Stabilization
- Ice Skaters
Just as important as the warm-up, a cool-down routine should be about 10-15 minutes immediately following activity. Using the sample program above, cool-down routines can be as simple as repeating the foam rolling and static stretching exercises. Other stretches can be added as needed.
Proper warm-up and cool down is essential to promote healthy habits and should be incorporated with other habits as well, including nutrition and hydration considerations.
As discussed, the benefits of physical activity on childhood development is indisputable. What is also indisputable is the negative effects that overtraining and early sports specialization can have on the growth and development of children.
Research has identified that children who participate in one sport or activity continuously for more than eight months spend more time in activities per week than other children in their age range, and participate in multiple leagues/teams of the same sports/activity. At the same time, they have a higher risk of injury and overall growth development (4).
How to Avoid Overtraining
To combat overtraining and early specialization, it is important to make sure children are creative with their physical activity. Routines should be diversified and if they are playing a sport, children should be allowed to take time off to focus on other activities.
Physical activity and exercise play an important role in the development of a child. Activity should begin around age 3 with play time and less structured tasks and then progress to more moderate-to-vigorous activity when children turn 6 years-old. As children grow, parents should encourage 60 minutes of activity a day, and on at least 3 days, vigorous activity is recommended.
Prior to any bout of activity, a proper warm-up routine should be followed as well as a cool down routine post activity. To avoid burnout and overuse, specialization and overtraining guidelines should be implemented throughout the year. Most importantly though, physical activity and exercise should be fun and enjoyable.
Interested in showing kids how to have fun while increasing their physical activity level and educating them on fitness? Check out the the Youth Exercise Specialization.
1. “CDC | Physical Activity | Facts | Healthy Schools.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/physicalactivity/facts.htm.
2. “Brain Breaks for Kids.” UNICEF Kid Power, www.unicefkidpower.org/brain-breaks-for-kids/.
3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
4. McGuine, T, Bell, D., & Post, E. (2018, May 09). Risks Associated with Sport Specialization in High School Athletes. Retrieved from: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/risks-associated-with-sport-specialization-in-high-school-athletes/