Thomas J. Connolly, M.D.
Maintaining good physical fitness has countless benefits — lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decreased body fat, increased blood and oxygen flow, protection against conditions like osteoporosis and diabetes — the list seems endless. Starting a fitness program at an early age can help your children get a jump-start on a lifetime of healthy habits. It teaches them about taking care of their bodies while creating stronger muscles.
During the summer months, children will have more time to devote to physical strength and cardiovascular fitness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should exercise for at least 60 minutes every day, including a variety of activities to improve cardiovascular, muscle and bone strength. Exercising each of these systems three days a week will help your child be well-rounded and healthy.
To improve cardiovascular fitness, children need aerobic activity, or exercise that elevates the heart rate enough to create perspiration. Aerobic activity can be moderate to vigorous in intensity. Examples of cardio exercises include running, brisk walking or team sports, such as basketball and volleyball.
Muscle-strengthening activities for children are not the same as activities recommended for adults. While adults often lift weights, a more age-appropriate option for kids would be to take a gymnastics class or play on a jungle gym.
Many cardiovascular activities double as bone strengthening exercises. Activities such as dancing, running or jumping rope will help your child develop strong bones.
For the child’s safety, parents should make sure that the physical activity is age-appropriate for their child. Sports should be played with children who are the same age and size, and rules and playing levels should be age-appropriate so your child does not get discouraged.
Do not push your child to play or engage in an activity he does not like. When children feel pressured, the activity becomes a chore and is no longer fun. This can create negative emotions about exercising, which can lead to long-term sedentary behavior.
Children learn by example, so why not show your child the importance of an exercise program by being active together? Parents who exercise are more likely to have children who engage in physical exercise. Family bike rides, community fun runs and picnics at recreational parks are just a few fun summer activities that may not seem like exercise, but remember: any physical activity can be exercise. Whether it’s walking to the neighborhood pool, playing hide-and-go-seek or riding bikes– these bursts of energy will keep kids healthy and fit all summer long.