How Fit and Active is Your Child?

With childhood obesity rates soaring across the U.S. and the developing world, more parents and teachers are focusing on keeping children fit and active.

Sticking to a balanced, low-fat diet is only one battle in the war against childhood obesity. Encouraging youths to take up physical exercise and sport is just as important as cutting out the burgers, fries, soda and candy.

Regular physical activity also offers many other childhood health benefits, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), such as reducing blood pressure and improving insulin insensitivity in young people with type 2 diabetes.

Team sports and personal workout regimes can all help children shed those extra pounds and improve their overall health, but how much exercise should your child take?

Pre-School Children

By the time they start school, children should be active for at least three hours a day. Exercise might include dancing, running or general play. The AAP recommends limiting structured activities, such as swimming or soccer, to 15 minutes a day for children under five-years-old.

Children Aged 6 to 8

Children start to develop more of an interest in competitive sports during their first few years in school, so introduce them to sports that develop balance and co-ordination, such as soccer, softball and tennis. Any sport that involves running for about 15 to 20 minutes will help strengthen the child’s cardiovascular system.

Children Aged 9 to 12

Introduce specific physical conditioning exercises, such as push-ups and sit-ups, but keep them varied to ensure the child doesn’t lose interest and bear in mind that children develop physically at different rates. A 12-year-old should be able to complete around 30 to 40 sit-ups comfortably and walk for 35 minutes or longer without tiring. Ideally children in this age group should play competitive sports regularly.

Children Aged 13 to 16

Young teenagers sometimes lose interest in sport so try to keep them engaged and challenged by setting fitness goals and targets. By this age, children should be able to cycle or walk for an hour, complete 50 sit-ups without stopping and swim six lengths of an 82-feet pool. Consider incentivizing teenagers by offering rewards for fitness and sporting achievements.

Become a Role Model

One way to spur on children is to keep fit and active yourself. Adults who prefer to slouch in front of a TV or games console might struggle to motivate their children to play sports. Set a good example; train with your child and join them in structured games to keep them focused and fun.