Childhood is an important time for developing healthy behaviors and habits. Kids should be active for at least 60 minutes every day engaging in active play. When adults think of working out, words that are associated with the “gym” seem to be attached. Many local centers are becoming more family friendly but you do not have to have a gym membership to create an effective exercise plan for kids. When you are creating weekly routines keep in mind four key aspects that should be a part of workout time: endurance, strength, flexibility and fun.
Playing tag and basketball, swimming and riding the bike are all aerobic and endurance related activities that help fine tune motor skills and allow children to have fun and build social skills as well. Child-specific activities should focus on active play and include several sessions that last 15 to 20 minutes for young children and 20 to 30 minutes for older children. With low cardiac risks, children do not need to use heart rate monitoring to succeed in reaching appropriate work rate levels. Using the rate of perceived exertion scale is sufficient. Children should participate in endurance activities on a daily basis to reduce weight and obesity levels. Endurance activities can be sport specific like soccer or basketball or they can be recreational such as playing tag in the backyard and creating kid-friendly obstacle courses.
Strength training does not mean kids have to lift weights. Using simple pieces of equipment such as hand weights, medicine balls, resistance bands and even the school yard playground can be used in turning play time into a musculoskeletal workout. Strength training is important for children because it increases bone growth during crucial years and also helps fortify bone density. Strength training also helps strengthen core muscles preventing play and sport-specific injuries. A child's strength routine should focus on muscular strength and endurance; high repetitions and low weight or resistance. Activities such as obstacle courses where kids swing on monkey bars, completing pushups and doing crunches in the sand are great games that will allow your child to “active play.” The American College of Sports Medicine suggests using medicine balls as another way of creating an effective resistance routine. When using a medicine ball the body has to recruit muscles as a unit, just like when swinging a baseball bat or playing on the monkey bars. They are easy to use and to kids they will seem more like a toy then a piece of equipment. A few ideas include chest press throws with partners, lateral jumping movements while tossing the ball in the air and partner tosses while completing situps.
Stretching and flexibility exercises will help children stay flexible throughout their adult years. Stretching allows the joints to move freely through full range of motion, which decreases the risk of muscle and joint injuries. Stretching exercises can be as simple as bending down to tie shoes to participating in gymnastics. Child yoga classes are becoming more popular but don’t feel like you have to pay for classes to get the benefits. Put in a yoga DVD at home, making sure to pay attention to safety and form, and enjoy some great active family time.
- About Aerobics: Fitness for Kids and Children Should Be Fun
- ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal: Medicine Ball Training for Kids
- “ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription”; The American College of Sports Medicine; 2006
- “ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal”; Fundamental Fitness in Children; Avery D. Faigenbaum; 1998
- Kids Health: Kids and Exercise