PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Exercise and Kids: Why They Need It

Posted on Jul 1, 2014

Family running on the beach together

It can seem like kids are constantly on the move. But many hours of children’s days can be spent sitting at school or in front of computers, iPads or TVs, drastically reducing their daily activity level.

“Regular exercise has many health benefits for children – and adults, too,” says Elizabeth Anne Huffman, M.D., a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “It helps us all maintain a healthy weight and build strong bones, muscles and joints. Exercise is also an excellent stress buster, encourages better sleep and will help your child concentrate at school.”

Here Dr. Huffman answers common questions from parents about exercise and kids and offers tips on how the family can be active together.

How much exercise should my child get?

Children of all ages, as well as adults, should aim to be active for 60 minutes every day for good health.

Toddlers are naturally very active, but you can start building healthy habits by making active pursuits part of their routine. Go out and explore the neighborhood on foot, head to the park or dance together.

For young children, it’s important to limit screen time, which stops them from being active. The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children under 2 years should not have any screen time (including TVs, iPads or laptops). For children older than 2, screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day. No matter what your child’s age, don’t let them have a TV in the bedroom, and set limits on screen time.

What type of exercise is best for my child?

Any type of activity that increases the heart rate and breathing will do. You are your child’s best inspiration. Know that whatever your child sees you doing, he or she will likely want to do, too. Here are a few fun and easy ideas to get active:

  • Set a challenge. Start with a walk around the block, next time run one length of the block, then alternate walking and running lengths until you have built up to running all the way round.
  • Walk or bike to school.
  • Play hide and seek or tag in the back yard or at the park.
  • Try jump rope, hula hooping or roller-skating.
  • Go bowling or take a yoga class together.
  • Play pick-up sports. Call a friend or two who will kick a soccer ball, shoot some hoops or throw a Frisbee with you and your child.
  • Get creative. Challenge another family to a back yard “Olympics” or hold a family skipping or jumping jacks competition.

When’s the right age for my son to join a team sport?

Generally, wait until your child is five or six years old before signing him up for the local soccer or T-ball team, as he’ll need some understanding of what it means to work with other kids to reach a common goal.

Participating in team sports can be a great way for your son to get regular exercise, learn new skills, make new friends and gain experience committing to something and being part of a team.

Should my daughter stick with one sport?

It’s best for children to explore a variety of sports, rather than pick just one. Different sports require the use of different muscle groups, which is better for overall good health. Playing one sport year-round can lead to overuse injuries, especially during the teen years.

What should I do if my daughter wants to quit a team sport?

If your daughter wants to quit a team sport mid-season, talk to her and find out why. This can be a good opportunity to teach her that perseverance can pay off.

If she really doesn’t like a particular sport, though, don’t force it. Next season encourage her to try something else. Keep a mellow approach and remember that if she enjoys a sport and is having fun, she will want to continue it on her own accord.

Elizabeth Anne Huffman, M.D.Elizabeth Anne Huffman, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Mountain View Center.