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7 Things Not to Say About Children and Physical Activity

These statements may sound innocent, but they could be harming your child.


Updated June 07, 2014

Do you know the daily recommendations for children and physical activity? School-age kids (as well as teens and adults) should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day, cumulative. Younger kids need even more activity: an hour and a half daily for toddlers, and two hours for preschoolers. It's really not a high bar (shorter bursts of activity count toward the day's total), but it's easy to make excuses for inactivity. Do you find yourself saying any of these?

1. "They've been playing all day; they can watch a little TV."

Cheerful parents playing board game with their children.
kristian sekulic/Vetta/Getty Images
It's true—a little TV doesn't hurt. But too often, a little becomes a lot. And even a little can interfere with active play. If your child really has been playing hard all day, cuddle up on the couch together. But if she's been busy with books and board games, share some active together-time instead.

2. "We'll just take the car."

Bike with trailer
Catherine Holecko
I know. Sometimes it's easier to get where you're going if you just belt everyone into the car. But walking, biking, or riding a scooter is a simple way to add extra physical activity to your child's day (and your own). Most of the trips we make in our cars are short ones. Think about replacing some of those with active transportation instead. If it's cold, bundle up. If it's wet, wear boots and bring an umbrella. If you have stuff to carry, consider bike baskets or a trailer.

3. "He gets plenty of exercise at recess."

If only! It's true that recess offers many benefits to kids—physical, behavioral, and academic. But it's very unlikely that your child gets a full hour of free play time at school. He might not even get any: Only 8 U.S. states have laws requiring daily recess. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) suggests a minimum of one 20-minute recess period per day for school-age kids. And that should be in addition to at least 150 minutes a week of physical education time. Ask about your child's recess and PE schedule. You may be surprised at what you learn.

4. "I never have time to work out."

Fitness challenge family workout
Catherine Holecko
What does this have to do with children and physical activity (besides the fact that taking care of them is what's taking up all your time)? A comment like this doesn't prevent your child from being active. But it does tell him that exercise isn't a priority for you. To help your child learn the importance of exercise, doing is as important as telling. So find the time.

5. "My kid isn't overweight."

Every child needs daily physical activity, whether her weight is at, above, or below average. While exercise can help kids lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it offers many other benefits unrelated to the number on the scale. Physical activity can boost children's mental health and lower their blood pressure. It builds and strengthens bones, joints, and muscles. It promotes social development and good behavior too.

6. "She just doesn't like sports."

Archer drawing bow, photo by Vladimir Pcholkin
Vladimir Pcholkin
Sorry, but non-athletic kids don't get a pass on regular physical activity. Your child doesn't have to be a soccer star or even a team player in order to play actively. You can help her find a sport (or fitness activity) that she enjoys.

7. "It's too cold/wet/unsafe to play outside."

I'll admit this can be a tough one. Where I live, winters are long, icy, and dark. Sometimes my kids and I just want to hibernate inside. When summer does roll around, we have access to a backyard, parks, and a community pool, but other families may not.

Still, no matter your environment, you do have fitness options. If you can't play at home, go on an active outing. If you don't have the cold-weather or rain gear you need to play outside, be active indoors. If your budget is stretched, look for cheap fitness fun.

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