Children and Exercise

A Lifelong Habit Starts Young

In the year 2000, it is common knowledge that physical activity is good for you and an essential part of healthy living. Regular physical activity reduces the risk for obesity, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Regular physical activity can also be used as a therapeutic and preventative intervention for enhancing physical and mental health, enhancing positive feelings about body image, improved self-esteem, tangible experiences of competency and success and increased self-confidence.

Remember when we were children we were always told to eat all your vegetables and do your homework on time and clean your room? Great advice, but knowing what is good for you when your are a kid for the now preparing for the future in adulthood has been quite the challenge. "Turn off the TV and go outside and play" is far from reality. As research has shown recently American children today are fatter than ever. The fitness bug may have bitten the parents but it certainly has not carried over to the younger generation.

This distressing news has increased the fitness gap in America and has been augmented by the fact that the average child from 6 to 11 watches 25 hours of television a week, and now with computers and video games are keeping the youth sedentary. Only about one-half of U.S. young people (ages 12-21 years) regularly participate in vigorous physical activity. This indicator of inactivity is higher among females; males are more likely than females to participate in vigorous physical activity, strengthening activities, and walking or bicycling.

A Plan of Action:
Inactive children grow up to be inactive adults. The best time to foster enjoyment is in childhood, when lifelong habits are more likely to develop. Physical activity doesn't necessarily have to happen in the gym, especially for the youth and young adult.

Our children are encouraged to spend more time at the computer, on homework and errands galore, while the time spent in schools' physical education is being cut, it is a challenge to find a way to be physically active. Exactly what type of activity that is recommended and for how long, comes the Surgeon General's Report in 1996 on Physical Activity and Health. It is encouraged that young adults engage in a total of 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and preferably more. And to participate in a variety of activities that work different parts of the body for at least one period of 10 to 15 minutes a day of vigorous exercise to get the heart to beat faster.

Children are more likely to pursue physical activities if a parent participates with them. Find something all of you can do together, a bike ride, a walk in the park, or ice-skating. If your child's desired activity is something that you cannot do or want to do, encourage them by showing your support and interest that they do it safely, and consistently, One doesn't have to be a member of the track and field team to be active. Be creative as to what they can learn and participate in such as dancing, fencing, tennis, soccer and many more. Remember activities of daily life can be active and efficient at the same time. Take the stairs instead of escalators or elevators or have them help out with the gardening.

Active children tend to be active adults. Its time now to start the lifelong habit of physical activity.

Written by: Lisa Hoffman, M.A.


Brody J., Fitness Gap Is America's Recipe for Fat Youth, New York Times, Oct. 19, 2000

President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports; Physical Activity & Sport in the Lives of Girls, May 1997

U.S. Dept. Health & Human Services, CDC, NCCDPHP, President's Council of Physical Fitness & Sports; Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1996