Pediatric Medicine

The Importance of Exercise


Warmer weather is right around the corner and before we know it, kids will be out of school, looking for fun ways to spend their summer vacation. There’s no better way to occupy their time than by getting out with them in the nice weather for some physical activity. It’s a great time of year for your family to establish new, healthier routines. Staying active is one of the best ways for kids to live a healthy lifestyle as they grow.

Obesity has become an epidemic in America and, unfortunately, our kids are not immune to the risks. Among children ages 2-19, about one in three is overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. That is a staggering statistic. While the number of obese children and teens has steadily increased over the past two decades, families can take an active role in making sure their children don’t become part of the statistics.

“The best place to start is at home,” said Julie Blanchard, a Carilion Clinic health educator. “If the whole family participates in a healthy lifestyle, it can be easier on the kids.”

Like so many things during childhood, kids learn a lot from their families. This is no different when it comes to staying physically active. If parents lead an active lifestyle, their kids are more likely to as well.

So, how much physical activity should your child be getting? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. The exercise should be varied, with some moderate and vigorous activity.

Moderate activity could include a walk after dinner each night or having the kids help with the yard work. While they may not be crazy to participate at first, if the entire family is included in these activities, it becomes part of everyone’s daily routine.

Vigorous activities don’t necessarily need to be hard exercises. Consider activities, such as jumping rope, swimming, or playing games like tag, soccer, or basketball. The CDC recommends that children participate in vigorous physical activities at least three days a week.

Now that you have some examples of ways to keep your kids active, how can you get them started living a more active, healthy lifestyle?

“First, make physical activity a priority in your family,” said Jill Lucas Drakeford, a Carilion Clinic health educator. “Make a plan to do something physical with your family each day.”

Children are all about fun, so try to keep your family’s physical activities varied and interesting. Plan birthday parties or family gatherings around physical activities, like a game of tag or dancing to everyone’s favorite music. If your child has never done yoga or group exercises, try a class or train for a community event, such as a charity walk. If you’re motivated to try something new, your child may also take an interest in a new activity.

“Parents can also help their children get into a healthy routine, by giving them toys that encourage physical activity, such as balls, kites, and jump ropes,” Drakeford said.

Exercise will not only help your child become healthier, but it will help build self-esteem and confidence, which is key to staying motivated and sticking to a healthy lifestyle.

Another important thing for all parents to remember when it comes to their children’s health: limit “screen time.” Children 2 years old and older should spend no more than two hours a day watching television, playing video games, and using the computer, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

”It’s important to know how much time your children are spending in front of a television or computer screen,” Blanchard said. “Set limits for the entire family and follow through on those limits.”

If you are watching television as a family, try turning commercial breaks into “activity breaks.” See how many push-ups or jumping jacks each family member can do during the commercial break. Friendly competition can benefit all family members, not just the kids.

Summer is a great time to be active outdoors, but remember, living a healthy lifestyle also means living a safe one. Always wear sunscreen when outside. The CDC recommends sunscreen of 15 SPF or higher. Everyone should apply 15 to 20 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply at least every two hours, just to be safe.

It’s also important to take frequent water breaks in the shade or indoors. It’s easy to become dehydrated when your family is having fun. Scheduling water breaks can help everyone remember to drink water before feeling thirsty.

There are so many reasons why children should become more active: helping with self-esteem, stimulating their brain, helping to avoid anxiety and depression, helping them learn coordination, and building strong bones and muscles. But the most important reason would be to avoid serious diseases, such as diabetes. The benefits of a daily activity routine far outweigh any negatives. Making a conscious effort to keep your kids active now will help them grow into healthy, active adults.