Updated: Jul 31
We all know that exercise is an important tool to stay healthy. As adults, many of us structure our days around trying to squeeze in a morning run or a trip to the gym (and maybe some days we try harder than others).
But what about kids? Should they be “working out” or is playing Tag outside enough? How long should they be active in a day and how much activity is too much? It can be tough to strike the right balance when there are so many variables, but these guidelines might help you figure out if your child is getting enough exercise.
How Much Exercise Should Your Child Get?
While some kids might need more activities to stay happy and healthy than others, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends kids 6 and older get at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day.
This can be broken up throughout the day, too. Some countries recommend kids getting 15 minutes of physical activity for every hour that they’re awake, which could help keep kids focused.
Too much activity is rarely an issue with younger kids, but when teenagers start juggling multiple practices and training sessions throughout the week, burnout can pop up.
A quick reference to help avoid this is to allocate for practice 1 hour per year of age, per week. For example, a 13-year-old shouldn’t be at practice for more than 13 hours a week.
Pick a Balanced Routine
Just like adults, a well-balanced exercise routine should hit on three different areas: endurance (increased heart rate), strength (building muscle), and flexibility. Luckily, a lot of activities combine a few areas in one – for example, football focuses on endurance and strength, and yoga highlights strength and flexibility.
Ages 6 to 9
When kids are younger than six, unstructured free play is sufficient in helping them learn, develop mentally, and stay healthy. Once kids hit the six-year-old mark, they start to gain a deeper understanding of rules and are better at following directions.
Their attention spans are longer as well, so organized games and sports start to become appealing. Activities like, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, and yoga are all great ways to engage your child mentally while keeping them active.
Ages 10 to 12
From the ages of 10 to 12, kids are better coordinated and able to understand (and remember) sports strategies. More complex sports like football, basketball, and volleyball are a few good options for kids at this age. But keep in mind your own child’s physicality and personality.
This is a time when everyone is growing up at different rates and more aggressive contact sports could be riskier for some kids. Keep in mind, even if your child finds a sport they love, still encourage exploration into other areas as well. Your basketball star just might discover a hidden talent for dance too.
No matter what activity your child is drawn to, make sure you stay positive and encouraging for them. Focus on effort and passion rather than winning and losing. Be sure to pay attention to how much your child actually enjoys the sport too; sometimes interests change, sometimes interests grow, as long as your child is having fun and staying active they’re going to be set up for a lifetime of fitness.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, August). Children’s Health. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/fitness/art-20048027?p=1
MacMillan, Amanda. (2016, April). Can Kids Exercise Too Much? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/move/features/how-much-exercise#2