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Fitness and Your 6- to 12-Year-Old

Kids this age need physical activity to build strength, coordination, and confidence — and to lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. They're also gaining more control over how active they are.

School-age kids should have many chances to do a variety of activities, sports, and games that fit their personality, ability, age, and interests. Brainstorm with your kids on activities that feel right. Most kids won't mind a daily dose of fitness as long as it's fun.

Physical activity guidelines for school-age kids recommend that they get 1 hour or more of moderate to strong physical activity daily.

In addition:

  • Most of the physical activity should be aerobic, where kids use large muscles and continue for a period of time. Examples of aerobic activity are running, swimming, and dancing.
  • School-age kids usually have brief bouts of moderate to strong physical activity alternating with light activity or rest throughout the day. Any moderate to strong activity counts toward the 60-minute goal.
  • Muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity should be included at least 3 days a week.
  • Children naturally build strong muscles and bones when they run, jump, and play. Formal weight programs aren't needed, but are safe when properly designed and supervised.

Fitness at Home

Many parents and kids think of organized sports when they think of fitness. Though there are many advantages to signing a child up for a sports team, practice and games once or twice a week will not be enough to reach activity goals. Also, parents can no longer rely on physical education in schools to provide enough physical activity for kids.

Here are some ways to keep your kids moving at home:

  • Make physical activity part of the daily routine. From household chores to an after-dinner walk, keep your family active every day.
  • Allow enough time for free play. Kids can burn more calories and have more fun when left to their own devices. Playing tag, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and building snowmen are fun and healthy.
  • Keep a variety of games and sports equipment on hand. It doesn't have to be expensive — an assortment of balls, hula-hoops, and jump ropes can keep kids busy for hours.
  • Be active together. It'll get you moving, and kids love to play with their parents.
  • Limit time spent in sedentary activities, such as watching TV, using electronic devices, being online, and playing video games.

If you run out of possibilities at home, take advantage of local playgrounds and athletic fields. Make family fitness outings part of your regular routine. Let family members choose an activity — go hiking, ice skating, or try out the rock-climbing gym. Anything goes, as long as everyone can participate.

And remember: You'll help show your kids that exercise is important by regularly exercising yourself.

Fitness for Kids

Through physical activities, kids learn about sportsmanship, setting goals, meeting challenges, teamwork, and the value of practice.

Keep in mind your child's age and developmental level, natural abilities, and interests. Kids 6 to 8 years old are sharpening basic physical skills like jumping, throwing, kicking, and catching. Some enjoy doing this in organized sports teams, but non-competitive leagues are best for younger kids. Show your support by coaching your child's team or cheering from the stands on game days.

Kids 9 to 12 years old are refining, improving, and coordinating skills. Some become even more committed to a sport while others drop out as competition heats up and level of play improves.

It's OK if a child isn't interested in traditional sports, but it's important to find alternative ways to be active. Encourage a child who doesn't like soccer, basketball, or other team sports to explore other active options, like karate, fencing, golf, bicycling, skateboarding, and tennis.

Preventing Problems

Kids who participate in sports are at risk for injuries, so be sure yours wear the proper protective equipment, such as a helmet and protective pads when roller-blading. Kids who specialize in one sport are also at risk of overuse injuries, including stress fractures and joint injuries.

A child with a chronic health condition or disability should not be excluded from fitness activities. Some activities may need to be changed or adapted, and some may be too risky depending on the condition. Talk to your doctor about which activities are safe for your child.

Kids who enjoy sports and exercise tend to stay active throughout their lives. And staying fit can improve how kids do at school, build self-esteem, prevent obesity, and decrease the risk of serious illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease later in life.

If your child complains of pain during or after physical activity, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-06-2019

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