Physical Activity for Children and Teens

How Exercise Helps 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 5) 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:

  • Make them breathe harder and make the heart beat much faster than normal.
  • Make their muscles stronger. For example, they could play on playground equipment, play tug-of-war, do sit-ups, or use resistance bands.
  • Make their bones stronger. For example, they could run, play hopscotch, jump rope, or play basketball or tennis.

It's okay for them to be active in smaller blocks of time that add up to 1 hour or more each day.

Tips for Helping Your Child

  • Look for ways to make exercise and fitness more fun.
    Notice whether your child enjoys a certain activity. If he or she does not, look for other activities to try. Make activities more fun, perhaps by making them part of family outings, making up games to do along your route, or inviting friends to go along.
  • Expose your children to activities they can do for a lifetime.
    Swimming, biking, and hiking are examples of activities many people enjoy until well into old age.
  • Be a good role model for your children.
    If you treat your fitness program as an unpleasant chore, your children won't see it as much fun either. On the other hand, try not to emphasize fitness so much that your children feel pressure to keep up with your expectations.
  • Try to create a home atmosphere that encourages being active.
    Children who live in a household where both parents are inactive are likely to see themselves as naturally inactive too.
  • Limit daily screen time (not including time for schoolwork).
    • One hour or less for children ages 2 to 5 yearsfootnote 3
    • 2 hours or less for children older than 5 yearsfootnote 2
    There is a direct link between reducing these activities and increasing your child's physical activity. Remember that exercise does not have to be complicated. Just sending children out to play is healthier than having them sitting in front of the TV or computer.

Organized sports

If your child is involved in organized sports:

    • Learn about the risks of injuries for that sport (which may be different for children than for adults) and how to prevent them. Help your child prevent sport injuries. If you have concerns, talk to your child's doctor.
    • Learn about the coach's style for getting children to learn skills and play well. You and your child should be comfortable with the coach's style and the coach's skills.

Tips for Helping Your Teen

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.

Competitive sports

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.

  • Focus on things that your teen enjoys doing, whether it's competitive or noncompetitive sports or personal fitness activities (such as jogging, yoga, or cycling).
  • Some teens may prefer individual sports like karate, gymnastics, and swimming rather than group sports like soccer and baseball.

Help your teen avoid competition that stresses winning over everything else, including sportsmanship and schoolwork.

Avoiding injuries

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 Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children participate in a variety of activities and avoid early specialization in one sport. 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 5

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. Good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and nuts, including peanuts.

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

Public Health Agency of Canada: Healthy Living
www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/index-eng.php

References

Citations

  1. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2011). Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines For Youth. Available online: http://www.csep.ca/CMFiles/Guidelines/CSEP-InfoSheets-youth-ENG.pdf.
  2. Canadian Paediatric Society (2012). Healthy active living: Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescents. Paediatrics and Child Health, v17(4): 209–210. Also available online: http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/physical-activity-guidelines.
  3. Canadian Paediatric Society (2017). Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Available online: https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/screen-time-and-young-children. Accessed November 13, 2017.
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (2008, reaffirmed 2011). Strength training by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 121(4): 835–840.
  5. 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.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • 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.
  • Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, Council on School Health (2006, reaffirmed 2009). Active healthy living: Prevention of childhood obesity through increased physical activity. Pediatrics, 117(5): 1834–1842.
  • Murphy NA, et al. (2008, reaffirmed 2012). American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report: Promoting the participation of children with disabilities in sports, recreation, and physical activities. Pediatrics, 121(5): 1057–1061.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 2/7/2019

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

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