By Marius Nielsen, MSM
Getting active is something that many families think about and want to do. But busy schedules, lack of equipment or injury/illness can stop us from being successful. We know that physical activity, especially if it gets your heart rate up, provides lifelong benefits for everyone.
Recommended Physical Activity by Age
Toddlers and Preschoolers (Ages 2-5)
All children grow and develop best when they are moving throughout most of the day, getting adequate sleep, eating nutritious food, drinking plain water and limiting screen time. For very young children, it is important to get both structured opportunities for activity as well as undirected physical play time. At least three hours each day should be spent moving their bodies in active play with bone and muscle building activities integrated throughout the day.
Children and Adolescents (Ages 6-17)
This age group should work toward getting a minimum of 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity and limiting the amount of time sitting during the day. All forms of physical activity can be beneficial, but for those entering puberty and through adolescent years, weight bearing activities are particularly important. This is the age when we form the majority of bone mass.
Elementary-age children get recess and gym time, but these opportunities for play usually do not add up to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. It is important for families to provide additional opportunities for movement available outside of school.
When adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate aerobic exercise per week, it can significantly improve their overall health. Some of the benefits include:
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers.
- Reduced anxiety, depression and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Improved sleep, improved brain function and better overall quality of life.
- Lower weight and body fat.
Many of these risks are reduced even more by getting closer to 300 minutes of exercise per week. Adults can also reduce risk by lowering the amount of time spent sitting during the day. If you have a job where you sit most of the day, try setting a timer on your phone and get up for even a one-minute brisk walk down a hallway or up a set of stairs every 30-60 minutes. On your lunch or other break, go for a brisk 5-10 minute walk. All of these small efforts will help you accomplish better health. More info for adults here.
Types of Activities
- Moderate to vigorous aerobic: Skipping rope, running, swimming, dancing, biking
- Muscle building: Climbing playground equipment or trees, gymnastics/tumbling, tug of war, weight lifting, resistance bands (make sure the activity is age appropriate for the child)
- Bone building: Running, jumping, hopscotch, skipping rope, basketball, tennis
Ideas for Being Active as a Family:
- Go for a walk before dinner. Even 10-15 minutes of walking can benefit everyone in the family. Try challenges like skipping, galloping, hopping or doing some easy lunges as you walk to get your heart rate up and work large muscle groups.
- Stop by a playground and play for 20 minutes.
- Get the family out for a hike or nature walk on days off. Make it a scavenger hunt to find natural treasures along the way!
- Go to the pool or ride a bike.
- Most of all, have fun and enjoy the activity together. This helps set everyone up for a lifetime of good physical habits and health.
- More ideas here.
Marius Nielsen works as the Maternal and Child Health Program Coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health, coordinating efforts in early childhood obesity prevention, Health Eating Active Living (HEAL), and lactation-friendly places. They have worked with childbearing parents as well as young families for many years and are passionate about supporting families to reach their personal goals and potential.