adult woman exercising with daughter

Working Out With Kids

Tips for Helping Your Children Develop Good Exercise Habits

Believe it or not, YOU play a pivotal role in helping your children develop healthy habits that will stick with them for life. So what’s the secret to helping them embrace, enjoy and engage in physical activity? We’ve outlined a few tips to get you started.

Know the Facts

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.

The moral of the story? Intervene early.

Here’s how much exercise your child should be getting:

  • 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 Kristin Day, advanced practice nurse practitioner at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton. “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.”

Join Them

“Share their interests. If your child has an interest in sports, play the sport with them,” said Day. “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.”

Need a few ideas?

  • Play catch in the backyard, or even sign up to coach their team.
  • If your child likes reading, walk to the library to check out books.
  • 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.
  • Hike, bike or ski together as a family.

Day 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.”

Incorporate Strength Training

The AAP also 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.

That said, there aren’t any exercises that are bad for kids as long as they are age-appropriate, supervised, involve warming up and cooling down after the exercise, and use appropriate safety equipment.

Reap the Benefits

By participating in regular exercise with your kids, you’ll accomplish far more than simply setting a good example. There are many 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

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.”

Not to mention, exercise is also critical for reducing stress and anxiety, establishing emotional resilience, helping us keep a clear mind, and improving 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.”

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.