Children have a seemingly endless supply of energy. Channeling that energy into something positive can benefit kids' minds and bodies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends various amounts of daily physical activity for children depending on their ages and abilities. Adhering to these recommendations is especially important in the wake of what many public health officials fear has become an epidemic of childhood obesity in many nations. For example, the United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 13.7 million children between the ages of two and 19 are presently obese. In Canada, the Childhood Obesity Foundation reports that childhood obesity rates have hovered around 12 percent for years.
Routine physical activity can help children maintain healthy weights, and it also pays dividends for youngsters' mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, children between the ages of six and 18 who exercise regularly tend to have lower levels of depression, stress and psychological distress. Those findings, part of a 2019 study published in the journal Sports Medicine, reflect the ways exercise affects the mind. And the mental benefits don't stop there, as the study also found that youngsters who are physically active also have higher levels of positive self-image, life satisfaction and psychological well-being.
The amount of physical activity children need each month depends on their age, and the AAP recommends the following age-based guidelines.
• Infants: The AAP recommends infants get at least 30 minutes of tummy time and other interactive play throughout the day.
• Toddlers: Toddlers can be tough to keep up with, and parents can channel that energy into something positive by ensuring their kids get at least three hours of physical activity every day. Free play outside and daily neighborhood walks are some examples of appropriate physical activities for children in this age group.
• Preschoolers: Three-plus hours of physical activity, including one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise, is recommended for preschool-aged youngsters. Tumbling, throwing and catching are some of the activities recommended by the AAP.
• Elementary school students: School-aged children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. The AAP recommends giving children in this age group ample opportunities for free play but also notes that organized sports focused on fun can be great outlets for kids in elementary school. Parents can speak with their children's pediatricians about appropriate muscle/bone strengthening activities, which the AAP recommends three days a week for kids in this age group.
• Middle school students: Students in this age group need the same amount and types of exercise that elementary school students need. But the AAP advises parents to guide children toward physical activities that encourage socialization and to avoid having kids this age specialize in a single sport.
• Teenagers: Teenagers need an hour or more of physical activity most days of the week. Muscle/bone strengthening activities should be included three days per week. Activities that encourage socialization and competition are beneficial to teenagers' development.
Physical activity can benefit kids in myriad ways and should be a vital component of their daily lives.