Fitness Q & A

Kids’ Fitness Common Questions/Answers
Answers from Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Exercise Physiologist, Vice President of Educational Services

Physically active children have fewer chronic health problems. Exercise reduces the risk for developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure. Staying fit can also boost self-esteem. The most important thing you can do for your children is to teach them to value their lives. Being healthy and fit will not only put them in touch with their bodies, it will also increase their personal image and help them establish a desire to set personal goals.

If you want your children to become interested in exercise it is important for them to see you participating in activity. As a parent, it’s up to you to play the part in your child’s fitness and lead by example. You can’t just tell kids that being active is fun. You have to show them. Try taking your kids hiking, biking, dancing, sledding and in-line skating. Plan activities that focus on physical activity instead of watching television or going to the movies. If you want your kids to be healthy, happy teens and adults, it’s up to you to do something about it.

Children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day; however, several hours of activity is even better. Children should participate in a variety of non-competitive activities at varied levels of intensity. Daily activity should include 10 to 15 minute periods of vigorous exercise. Extended periods of inactivity are inappropriate for normal, healthy children. Kids should learn skills for lifetime fitness, including individual activities such as swimming, hiking, jogging and bicycling.

It is never too late or too early to get kids physically active. Children as young as six years old may strength train as long as they follow directions and focus on proper form and technique and are under the constant supervision of an adult. For a long time strength training was considered dangerous for children because it was of the fear that it might stun their growth. This is not the case, however. In fact, some sports place more stress on the joints and bones than does strength training. Supervised strength-training programs enhance children’s strength, motor fitness skills and athletic performance and help prevent injuries.

Pull-ups and push-ups are great strengthening exercises for kids since they must only support their own body weight. Children may work out two to three times per week, performing one set of seven or eight simple exercises at 10 to 15 repetitions. Biceps curls or leg extensions are best for young weightlifters. It is important that an adult closely supervises all strength-training exercises at all times. Children should avoid competitive weight lifting and concentrate on performing all exercises with proper training technique.

Stock the refrigerator with healthy foods like fruits and vegetables so that when they reach for a snack they find a healthy choice. Parents who have a lifestyle that includes healthful foods and physical fitness are role models for their children. The behaviors children see at home are most likely the ones they will adopt for themselves. Offer reasonable alternatives to your children’s high fat or high sugar selections and gradually encourage a change in their overall habits. It is important to still allow them to have some of their favorite foods included in their meals. A good way to get children involved and committed to healthy food choices is to involve them with the food shopping and preparation. Children who feel competent to select and prepare food will make more intelligent food choices.