Exercise Programs for Obese Children

Almost one in three children are overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association in 2010. In addition to developing increased risks for diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, obese children suffer from a variety of psychological and social problems. Creating an exercise program that burns calories, builds muscles and that kids enjoy will help you reduce the serious consequences of obesity for your child.

Make exercise fun to help children lose weight and improve their health. (Image: kwanchaichaiudom/iStock/Getty Images)

Cardiovascular Considerations

Obesity in children often is the result of a sedentary lifestyle. Asking children to elevate their heart rates to a heightened aerobic exercise rate for 30 minutes or longer may be dangerous. Start with an exercise pace that resembles a brisk walk, rather than a jog. Warm up slowly for the first few minutes, let children take breaks as needed and make sure they drink water whenever they become thirsty.

Physical Stress

Obese children may develop joint or back pain if they perform repetitive, high-impact exercise, which has both feet leaving the ground at the same time. Examples of this would be running, aerobic dancing, jumping jacks or jumping rope. Even a non-impact workout, such as on an elliptical machine, might cause knee and back problems because the child's full weight is on her legs the entire time. Look for exercises that don't put constant weight or repeated impact on the child's legs, feet and hips.

Beginner Exercise Program

Start slowly, with moderate-intensity, non-impact workouts. Take walks, ride a bike, swim, skate or do calisthenics such as push-ups, sit-ups, crunches or walking stairs. Start doing push-ups from a kneeling position to make them easier. Crunches may be easier because they do not require a child with weak core muscles to go all the way down. Walk and cycle up and down hills to raise and lower the heart rate and use different muscles. Change strokes every few laps when swimming to vary muscle use. Try to add strength, flexibility and endurance exercises to each workout. For example, children can use dumbbells while walking or using an exercise bike.

Intermediate Workout

Raise the intensity level of workouts after the child improves his cardio stamina and muscular endurance. Pick up the pace of walks or rides, trying to finish the course a few minutes early, or adding more minutes. Add a step aerobics workout, which is low impact. Add a few minutes of jumping rope and jumping jacks. Use a treadmill, elliptical machine, rowing machine or exercise bike. Your child does not need to do full aerobic workouts using these machines; just raise his heart rate each week as he improves his condition. Create a circuit training workout that includes a variety of exercise. Have the child spend 30 seconds of jumping jacks, 30 seconds of jump rope, 30 seconds of crunches and 30 seconds of stairs. Take a two- or three-minute break, then start another circuit, which might include push-ups, jogging in place, squats and lunges. Keep the circuit going for 30 minutes or more.

Make it Fun

Children are more likely to continue exercise if it's fun. Set goals and keep records so children can see improvement. Give rewards when children meet goals. Play games, such as basketball, tennis or volleyball, even if you need to adapt the equipment to make it easier. Lower a badminton net for a mini-tennis court in the driveway, or use a beach ball for longer volleyball points. Exercising with your children sets a good example for physical fitness.

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