Ask the Pediatrician

How much exercise do my kids really need?

Kids and teens need at least 60 minutes of exercise activity a day, and unfortunately, school P.E. doesn’t usually count for much. The best thing you can do is work out together as a family: an after-dinner stroll, bike riding, hiking—even walking the dog! Exercise improves self-esteem, reduces stress, and decreases the risk of serious health issues, such as obesity, heart disease, and stroke, later in life.

2–3 year-olds: Toddlers thrive on unstructured play. Climbing, running, jumping, playing in a sandbox are fun and healthy activities. Join in—they’ll love it, and you’ll get some exercise, too.

4–5 year-olds: With increasing coordination, 4 and 5-year-olds can play catch, dribble a ball, and take part in organized games. Biking and swimming are great options, too, but be careful as kids at this age still lack judgment, safety awareness, and coordination.

6–12 year-olds: Find out what your child likes: team sports or noncompetitive activities such as swimming, gymnastics, or martial arts. Demonstrate your commitment by practicing at home, coaching, and showing up at your child’s games.

13–18 year-olds: Unfortunately, many teens spend more time exercising your credit card than their muscles. So, encourage whatever activity they enjoy: competitive sports, skating, rock climbing, or snowboarding. Take a ski trip, go to the beach, or travel to the mountains with the entire family.

Exercise should become as much of a routine part of your family’s life as eating and sleeping. By stressing fitness with your children, you help ensure that they will stay active throughout their lives.

Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP, is the founder of Calabasas Pediatrics. She’s also a best-selling parenting book author and assistant clinical professor at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.

Health Right Column Ask the Pediatrician

Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP
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