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Spring is here, and families are excited for more outside time and fun activities. But we often compete with screens when promoting physical activity. How much exercise should my child get each day? How can we motivate our children to move more? And how can we determine which activities are best for our kids?
Why Is Physical Activity So Important for Children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days. Options can include sports practices, walking or active play. However, only one in four kids get the recommended amount of activity. Research shows that exercise is valuable for our kids’ mental and physical health. According to the AAP, the benefits of physical activity include better sleep, improved mood, increased focus, healthy muscles and bones, strength and coordination development, relaxation and building resilience and social skills. Combined with a healthy diet, physical activity also reduces the risk of childhood obesity.
How Can I Encourage My Child to Become More Active?
Motivating our children to choose physical activity over screen time can be challenging. However, there are several steps parents can take to help children embrace exercise and make healthy choices:
- Make exercise a part of your family routine. Getting the family involved has health benefits for everyone and offers valuable time together. Walking, skating, bike riding, and other family-friendly activities are wonderful ways to get active and enjoy quality time.
- Focus on fun instead of presenting exercise as a chore.
- Make sure activities are developmentally appropriate. Enrolling your child in sports or activities that are over their heads or too competitive can cause injury and kill the joy athletics can bring.
- Find room for organized activities in your child’s schedule, but leave time for active play.
- Limit screen time, including TV, video games, smartphones, social media and computers.
- Be a good role model. Discuss your physical activities as something you get to do rather than something you have to do. Share the joy you experience in exercising with your kids.
- Help your child find youth sports activities that suit their interests. Look for organizations that focus on positive coaching and development.
- Find fun alternatives for kids who aren’t into organized sports. Yoga, martial arts, swimming and cycling are all activities that may suit kids who don’t enjoy team sports.
Is Strength Training/Weight Lifting OK for Kids?
Strength training can have health benefits for young people, including increasing strength and endurance and helping prevent injury. That said, parents should proceed with caution and always focus on safety and proper technique. Using light resistance to build strength, but avoid any effort to “bulk up” before your child hits puberty. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, “Trying to build big muscles can put too much strain on young muscles, tendons and areas of cartilage that haven’t yet turned to bone (growth plates) — especially when proper technique is sacrificed in favor of lifting larger amounts of weight.”
Your child can start strength training in elementary school if they can follow directions and safety guidelines. Begin with a trainer experienced in working with children and adolescents, and talk with your child’s pediatrician before starting a strength training or weight lifting program.
How Can My Child’s Pediatrician Help Me Promote Physical Activity?
Your family pediatrician is an excellent resource for finding fun and healthy ways to stay active. Your pediatrician can:
- Suggest fun family activities that involve movement and exercise.
- Offer tips for motivating resistant kids to get moving.
- Recommend sports and activities that suit your child’s interests, abilities and developmental status.
- Recommend ways to prevent injury and stay safe.
At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, keeping our young patients healthy and thriving is a top priority. This often means helping families find ways to disconnect from technology and get active. We incorporate physical activity check-ins at every well visit. Our entire team is ready to help with excellent advice and creative ideas.