A Fit Future: Exercise Recommendations for Children
By Mary Shannon
Obesity rates in American have reached an all-time high. Approximately 18.5% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. Childhood obesity is associated with a long list of health concerns, such as high blood pressure, early symptoms of hardening of the arteries, type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and disordered breathing during sleep. These concerns were previously thought to only occur in adults. Obese children are also likely to remain obese for their entire lifetime. The dramatic rise in childhood obesity may reverse the modern era's steady increase in life expectancy, meaning today's youth could ultimately have a shorter, less healthy life than their parents. The high rate of childhood obesity is a serious public health concern.
One major way to prevent childhood obesity is exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that children and adolescents accumulate at least one hour of physical activity every day.
Like adults, children and adolescents should do a combination of aerobic (cardio) and strength exercise. Some examples of aerobic activities for kids include: bike riding, walking, running, a variety of sports, rollerblading, dancing, and swimming. It is recommended to expose the child to a wide variety of aerobic activities to prevent overuse injuries, keep them interested, and to help them gain a large variety of movement skills.
Each week the child should have 2 to 3 days of muscle strengthening activities. Younger children can strengthen their muscles by climbing, jumping, tumbling and gymnastics, and a variety of games. As the child gets older, they can participate in supervised strength training programs focused on teaching proper form and technique. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that weight training is safe if the child is old enough, the parent checks with the child’s physician first, the child is supervised by a qualified trainer, and the strength program is not too intense. Children are normally developed enough to begin weight training at age 7 or 8. The younger the child is, the lighter the weight they should be using. Intensity can be increased by performing more repetitions. Free weights tend to be more effective for children because mechanized weights are not structured for shorter limbs. Body weight calisthenics (such as push-ups and pull-ups), rock wall climbing, and obstacle courses are also options for older children.
Although sports and free play are valuable ways to get a child active, structured exercise is also important. Once a person grows up and starts his or her career, opportunities to participate in sports dramatically decreases. Learning to enjoy structured exercise at an early age can increase the child’s chances of continuing that habit throughout his or her lifetime. Parents and other adult role models should aim to set a good example by being physically active themselves. When it comes to exercising, adults should encourage children to do their best and not worry about being the best.
Teaching children to become more physically active plays a major role in fighting childhood obesity. Children should be physically active for at least an hour every day and should do both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Encouraging today’s youth to exercise and helping them to enjoy doing it can help them to develop healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.