For children, exercise means playing and being physically active, such as during gym class at school, soccer practice or dance lessons. Everyone can benefit from regular exercise. A child who is active will:
- Feel less stressed
- Feel better about themselves
- Be more attentive in school
- Keep a healthy weight
- Build and keep healthy bones, muscles and joints
- Sleep better at night
In addition, regular exercise helps kids handle the physical and emotional challenges that a typical day presents whether that means running to catch a bus, bending down to tie a shoe, or studying for a test.
Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on the three elements of fitness, being: (1) endurance, (2) strength and (3) flexibility.
Endurance is developed when someone regularly engages in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for persistent periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body's ability to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Examples of aerobic activity include: basketball, bicycling, soccer, swimming and running. In kid language, endurance is like "running away from the kid that's 'it' during a game of tag."
Improving strength does not have to mean lifting weights. Push ups, stomach crunches, pull ups, and other exercises help tone and strengthen muscles. Children also incorporate strength activities in their play when they climb, do a handstand, or wrestle. In kid language, strength is what is needed to "cross the monkey bars."
Stretching exercises help improve flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to bend and move easily through their full range of motion. Kids find opportunities every day to stretch when they try to get a toy just out of reach, practice a split, or flip over the couch. In kid language, flexibility is what is necessary for "bending down to tie your shoes."
Thirty to sixty minutes of exercise each day is enough to strengthen bones and muscles and prevent children from gaining too much weight. Parents can set a good example by being active themselves. Exercising together can be fun for everyone. Competitive sports can help kids stay physically active. Walking or biking to school, bowling, dancing and swimming are other fun ways for kids to get exercise.