Children should have many chances to play, run, bike, and play sports during the day. They should get 60 minutes of moderate activity every day.
Moderate activity makes your breathing and heartbeat speed up. Some examples are:
- Walking fast
- Playing chase or tag
- Playing basketball and most other organized sports (such as soccer, swimming, and dancing)
Younger children cannot stick with the same activity as long as an older child. They may be active for only 10 to 15 minutes at a time. The goal is still to get 60 minutes of total activity every day.
Children who exercise:
- Feel better about themselves
- Are more physically fit
- Have more energy
Other benefits of exercise for children are:
- A lower risk for heart disease and diabetes
- Healthy bone and muscle growth
- Staying at a healthy weight
Some kids enjoy being outside and active. Others would rather stay inside and play video games or watch TV. If your child does not like sports or physical activity, look for ways to motivate him. These ideas may help children become more active.
- Let children know that being active will give them more energy, make their bodies stronger, and make them feel better about themselves.
- Give encouragement for physical activity and help children believe they can do it.
- Be their role model. Start being more active if you are not already active yourself.
- Make walking a part of your family's daily routine. Get good walking shoes and rain jackets for the wet days. Do not let rain stop you.
- Go for walks together after dinner, before turning on the TV or playing computer games.
- Take your family to community centers or parks where there are playgrounds, ball fields, basketball courts, and walking paths. It is easier to be active when people around you are active.
- Encourage indoor activities such as dancing to your child's favorite music.
Find a Good Match
Organized sports and daily activities are good ways for your child to get exercise. You will have better success if you select activities that fit your child's preferences and abilities.
- Individual activities include swimming, running, skiing, or biking.
- Group sports are another option, such as soccer, football, basketball, karate, or tennis.
- Choose an exercise that works well for your child's age. A 6-year-old may play outside with other kids, while a 16-year-old may prefer to run at a track.
Daily activities can use as much, or more, energy than some organized sports. Some everyday things your child can do to be active include:
- Walk or bike to school.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Ride a bike with family or friends.
- Take the dog for a walk.
- Play outside. Shoot a basketball or kick and throw a ball around, for instance.
- Play in the water, at a local pool, in a water sprinkler, or splashing in puddles.
- Dance to music.
- Skate, ice-skate, skate-board, or roller-skate.
- Do household chores. Sweep, mop, vacuum, or load the dishwasher.
- Take a family walk or hike.
- Play computer games that involve moving your whole body.
- Rake leaves and jump in the piles before bagging them up.
- Mow the lawn.
- Weed the garden.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). School health guidelines to promote healthy eating and physical activity. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2011;60(RR-5):1-76. PMID: 21918496 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21918496/.
Cooper DM, Bar-Yoseph Ronen, Olin JT, Random-Aizik S. Exercise and lung function in child health and disease. In: Wilmott RW, Deterding R, Li A, Ratjen F, et al. eds. Kendig's Disorders of the Respiratory Tract in Children. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 12.
Gahagan S. Overweight and obesity. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 60.
Review Date 6/8/2021
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.