A broad range of researchers and professionals acknowledge that optimal health during childhood and adolescence requires a high level of physical activity. The health benefits of physical activity during the first two decades of life are many and diverse. As summarized in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, physical activity at recommended levels improves physiological risk factors for cardio-metabolic disease, enhances bone health, improves cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improves body composition. In addition, positive experiences with physical activity during childhood and adolescence increase the probability that young people will adopt a physically active lifestyle that continues into adulthood. So there are many good reasons for children and adolescents to be highly physically active.

Unfortunately, many American youths are not very physically active. Today’s young people, as a group, are less active than their counterparts from earlier generations, and recent evidence shows that large percentages of young people do not meet current physical activity guidelines. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for young people to in engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. This should include 1) moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity daily (with vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days per week), 2) muscle-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days per week, and 3) bone-strengthening physical activity at least 3 days per week.

Parents may wonder if there is anything they can do to get their kids to be more active and live a healthier lifestyle. Here are a few ways:

  • Control your children’s access to sedentary forms of entertainment such as television watching, video game play, and Internet use. Cumulative participation should be limited to no more than 2 hours per day.
  • Ensure that your children spend as much time playing outdoors (especially with friends) as possible, assuming that the setting is safe.
  • Include equipment for physically active play in your home environment (e.g., balls, bikes).
  • Provide your children with multiple opportunities for physically active play through sports, lessons, recreation programs, and visits to parks. Examples include providing transportation and monetary support, as well as attending games, competitions, and/or performances.
  • Be physically active with your children as frequently as possible.
  • Educate your children about proper nutrition by testing out healthy, tasty recipes, limiting fast food and sodas, and practice portion control.
  • Go for family bike rides or walks with the dog regularly.
  • Seek professional help for children’s fitness from a certified personal trainer.

(Source: Pate, Russell R., Ruth P. Saunders, Jennifer R. O’Neill, and Marsha Dowda. “Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity: Helping Youth Be More Active.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 15.1 Jan. (2011): 7-12. Print. )

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