Exercise is just as important for kids as it is for adults. However, although we tend to assume that kids are naturally more active than adults, that’s not always the case. Long days at school, combined with homework and the many distractions of the modern world (namely, TV and video games) can make it difficult for kids to get in a healthy amount of physical activity.
What’s more, inadequate exercise can have major consequences for kids, both in the short and long term. These include obesity, increased risk for diabetes and other diseases, and poor mental health, to name just a few.
As a parent, that can (understandably) make you feel concerned and hopeless. However, with the right strategies and tools, it’s possible to help your kid stay active and healthy.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?
Kids’ exercise needs vary based on their age. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lays out the following guidelines:
- Kids aged 3-5 years should be active throughout the day
- Kids aged 6-17 should get 60 minutes of exercise each day. This should include primarily aerobic activity, with muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities mixed in at least 3 days a week.
Tips for Making Exercise Fun
The key to motivating children to exercise is to make sure that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Not only will this help overcome any resistance to exercising, but making physical activity an enjoyable part of kids’ daily routine can contribute to healthy habits that will last them for years to come. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Incorporate Screens Differently. Can’t get your kids to drag themselves away from their screens for long enough to exercise? Consider integrating smartphones into their exercise routine. Fitness apps, virtual reality exercise programs, dance games, and more can be a great way to help kids get moving. Alternatively, you might consider making a certain amount of exercise a requirement for screen time in the evening.
- Make It a Group Activity. Making exercise a social event can help motivate kids to participate. Consider rallying your family for a walk around the neighborhood in the evening, or encouraging kids to go for a bike ride with a group of friends.
- Change the Scene. Our environment has a bigger impact on our behavior than many of us think. If we’re used to living a mostly sedentary lifestyle at home, it can be hard to break those patterns. Introducing new spaces—like parks, playgrounds, or natural recreational areas—can offer opportunities for different kinds of movement (like biking, hiking, swimming, etc.) and lower the resistance that kids feel to engaging in physical activity.
- Make It a Game. A little friendly competition is a great incentive. Organized sports like soccer, basketball, and football can be great opportunities for kids to move their bodies and socialize. If those aren’t available, look for ways that you can introduce games to other forms of exercise—think bike polo, or racing.
If your child doesn’t enjoy group sports or activities, there are still ways to gamify exercise. For example, you might challenge them to see how many days in a row they can exercise, or see if they can walk or bike a certain number of miles over the course of a week.
- Explain the Why. Make sure your kid understands why exercise is important. A kid who understands that physical activity is a necessary part of keeping their bodies and brains healthy is much more likely to be a willing participant in exercise than one who doesn’t understand why they’re being told to do something they don’t want to do.
- Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good. An hour of exercise every day might not be feasible for everyone. If that’s the case for your family, don’t give up entirely. When it comes to exercise, some is still substantially better than none. Start where you can, and look for opportunities over time to get better.
All Kids Bike is a national movement dedicated to bringing the mental and physical benefits of bike riding to every kid in America. Led by the Strider Education Foundation, our mission is to make bicycling skills an integral part of kids’ elementary school education. Our Kindergarten PE Program provides the curriculum, bikes, and safety equipment needed to teach every kindergartner how to ride at no cost to the school itself.
All Kids Bike and the Strider Education Foundation depend on generous contributions from the community to do the important work that we do. Consider donating to a school in your area to support our vision of making this milestone skill accessible to children across the country. Contact us to learn more!