Although there is no set age at which children should start to exercise, it’s never too early to encourage your child to be physically active. Physical activity does not, however, have to be in the form of a structured exercise program. Experts recommend different types of physical activity for different age groups.
For infants, exercise should consist of daily physical activities that promote movement and exploration of the child’s environment. At the toddler and preschool age, most children are still too young for organized sports and should get exercise from a combination of planned and unstructured activities. Activities can include running, jumping, kicking a ball, riding a tricycle, dancing or climbing. In other words, the way in which most children interact and play at this age provides the best form of exercise.
By the time your child is 6 to 8 years old, exercise can include participation in organized sports. It’s usually best to begin in a non-competitive or instructional league. Some children enjoy team sports such as soccer and baseball. Others prefer activities that, while organized and structured, are not team oriented. Individual sports such as tennis, golf, swimming, gymnastics and karate offer good exercise opportunities.
Some children express an interest in strength training at an early age. According to MayoClinic.com, strength training can become a part of your child’s exercise program as early as 7 to 8 years of age, but only if he can follow instructions easily and is mature enough to understand the importance of performing the exercises correctly. Your child should also understand that strength training at this age is meant to improve muscle tone and increase endurance, not bulk up. Lifting weights won’t create bigger muscles in a child who hasn’t yet reached puberty, and using heavy weights can cause injury to muscles and tendons. A qualified trainer or coach should supervise your child’s strength training at this age. It’s also a good idea to get approval from your child’s doctor before starting such a program.
How Much Exercise?
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education gives specific recommendations for how much exercise your child needs. Toddlers should get at least 90 minutes of physical activity each day – 30 minutes of planned activity and 60 minutes of free play. Preschoolers need 60 minutes of structured activity and 60 minutes of free play each day. Children 5 to 12 years of age need at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: OK for Kids?
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education: Active Start: A Statement of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children From Birth to Age 5, 2nd Edition
- National Association for Sport and Physical Education: Physical Activity: A Statement of Guidelines for Children Ages 5 – 12, 2nd Edition
- KidsHealth.org: Fitness for Kids
- MayoClinic.com: Children and Sports: Choices for All Ages
- KidsHealth.org: Getting Muscles
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