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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Physical Activity for Children and Teens
Children as young as preschool age benefit from exercise and fitness as much as adults do. Experts recommend that teens and children (starting at age 6) do moderate to vigorous activity at least 1 hour every day.footnote 1 And 3 or more days a week, what they choose to do should:
It's okay for them to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day.
It's important for children and teens to take part in all three types of fitness: flexibility, aerobic fitness, and muscle strengthening.
Show your children how to stretch their muscles. Let them do stretching exercises along with you. Gently correct their form when needed so that they learn good habits and understand that there is a way to do stretches that makes them most effective.
Children often get aerobic activity without realizing it. Playing tag, having a squirt-gun fight, or playing catch with friends all provide aerobic exercise. Going for hikes and walking to the store also provide aerobic activity. Many schools and communities have programs for soccer, T-ball, and other activities. These are great ways for your children to get aerobic exercise and meet new friends.
Bicycling, swimming, climbing, and helping in the yard or garden are just a few examples of activities that strengthen muscles.
Many children show an interest in weights. When properly supervised, weight training for children is safe and can be helpful in preparing them for sports and starting good lifetime fitness habits. Talk to your child's doctor before your child starts a weight-training program.footnote 2 This type of exercise is not right for every child.
When children work with weights:
For more information, see the topic Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.
If your child is involved in organized sports:
Teens sometimes need encouragement to get active. You can help motivate your teen by setting an example.
If regular exercise is a normal part of family life, teens may see it as natural to start or keep exercising. Household chores count as physical activity too. Talk with your teen about the physical benefits of exercise, such as improved mood or energy level.
Although competitive sports are a great way for teens to be physically active while they learn valuable social skills, be aware that sports are not for everyone.
Help your teen avoid competition that stresses winning over everything else, including sportsmanship and schoolwork.
Many sports require repeated movements or require that bones repeatedly bear weight. Overuse injuries occur from stressing the joints, muscles, or other tissues and not letting them recover.
The growing bones of young athletes may not be able to handle as much stress as the mature bones of adults. Repeated stress on the body may lead to irritation, inflammation, stress fractures, or other conditions. For example, a swimmer may get a rotator cuff injury because he or she doesn't realize that fatigue or poor performance is a sign of overuse.
Teens who take part in endurance events, year-round sports, or weekend tournaments, and teens who diet to stay at a certain weight for a sport (such as gymnastics or wrestling) are also at risk for injuries. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting one sport to no more than 5 days a week, with at least 1 day off each week from any organized physical activity. Also, the AAP suggests that athletes have at least 2 to 3 months off each year from their particular sport.footnote 3
Anyone who does too much activity without the right conditioning is at risk for injury. Be sure young athletes get enough rest and nutrition.
Some teens think protein powders or shakes are a nutritious snack that can help build muscle. They may cause harm and cost a lot. If your teen wants to try one, talk to his or her doctor first.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2008, reaffirmed 2011). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 121(4): 835–840.
Brenner JS, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2007, reaffirmed 2011). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Pediatrics, 119(6): 1242–1245.
Current as of:
January 26, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: January 26, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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