Why Children Need Physical Activity

By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC

With the number of gadgets kids have access to these days, and P.E. classes being cut in schools, higher rates of disease have started to emerge in children. Diseases that are usually seen in adults are now being seen in young children. Lack of physical activity is a major cause of many of the health problems we face today – high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.  Being inactive can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack, and lower your life expectancy considerably.  If you start healthy habits early in your children with lots of physical activity, they are more likely to become active adults, and this will reduce these risks.

Physical activity is natural for kids.  As soon as they are born, they are exploring their world through interacting physically with it.  There is no distinction between play and learning.  Children are naturally active and have energy to burn, so all that it takes is a little bit of encouragement from parents. If you can imagine, just 1 hour a day of exercise could literally transform your child, not only now, but even in their future adult life.

Unfortunately, studies show that today’s children aren’t getting the physical exercise that they need.  The British Heart Foundation published studies in  which showed disheartening results.  They found that 1 in 3 children do not get the minimum recommended amount of exercise daily.  By the age of 15, two-thirds of girls are technically considered” inactive.”  The studies also showed that, during the 1990’s, the number of obese 6-year-olds doubled and the number of obese 15-year-olds tripled.  These are not isolated cases, and they show that physical activity is more important than ever to children’s health.

How Much Physical Activity Should Kids Get?

According to the American Heart Association, children should have 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.  It states that if a solid hour is not available, the activity can be broken up into 30, 15 or 10-minute sessions and the effects will still be beneficial.  It recommends starting as early as age two.

The Australian government recommends the same, and also states that there is no maximum.  Several hours of physical activity is even better than one.  It is also recommended that a routine that combines different activities is good because it works different areas of the body.

Even children who are overweight, uncoordinated or not skilled at sports can benefit greatly from this daily activity.

The Benefits Of Physical Exercise For Children

Exercise for children has obvious physical benefits and it creates healthy habits so that they’ll be active as adults.  It also aids in their physical development, building stronger bones, better balance, greater flexibility and boosting the immune system, thereby preventing disease.

Less obvious are its social and psychological benefits.  It has been found that children who are physically active are more self-confident, have improved brain power, higher IQ and improved thinking.  They have higher self-esteem and better psychological well-being.  Active kids also have better posture,better sleep habits,  better ability to concentrate and handle stress.  The social benefits include getting along with others and making friends easily.

How To Promote Physical Activity In Your Children

Although children are naturally active, it takes some encouragement on the part of parents, especially as their children get older.  Here are some ways that you can promote physical activity:

–        Reduce their sedentary time – time when they’re watching television, playing video games, talking on the telephone or reading.

        Make exercise fun.  Find things that they enjoy doing…bicycling, swimming, dancing, gymnastics, basketball, hiking, climbing,  rollerskating, jumping on a trampoline, flying a kite…ANYTHING!     Rainy days can be fun too. Put on your rubber boots and splash through the puddles!

–        Be a good role model.  Kids learn from watching their parents, so be active with them.  Research shows that children with active parents are much more active themselves.

        Let them choose which activities to do.

–        Teach them to accept different physical abilities and body types.

        Get them doing physical tasks around the house like gardening, yard work and house cleaning.

        Go for regular walks around the neighborhood.  Whenever possible, leave the car at home when you run errands and     instead walk or bicycle.

–        Start when they’re toddlers and teach them physical actions like throwing a ball or jumping.


It’s never too early to start promoting physical activity with your children, and the results can be lifelong.



American Heart Association, “Physical Activity and Children,” Updated January 28, 2011, AHA website –

“Being active is good for kids,” Raising Children Network,

“Children – getting them active,” Better Health Channel –

“Why children need exercise,” April 22, 2002, BBC News –



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