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Fitness and Physical Activities for School-Aged Kids

Keep your school-ager's body and brain healthy with lots of physical activities.

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Gymnastics can be one of a child's favorite physical activities.
John Giustina / Getty Images

Does your child run, play, and move for at least 60 minutes a day? That's how much time school-aged kids need to spend on moderate to vigorous physical activities to stay fit and healthy. The time should be divided among aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities.

Short bursts of 15, 10, or even 5 minutes count toward this daily tally, so make sure your child has lots of opportunities for physical activities before, during, and after school.

Physical Activities at School

Academics are important, but so is finding time for fitness. When kids have the chance to run and play at recess, they focus more (and fidget less) during class. Physical education (PE) provides another opportunity to move during the school day. It also exposes kids to new sports and games, and introduces important health habits.

But not every child gets enough recess and PE time:

  • Only 8% of elementary schools provide daily physical education.
  • Only nine states require elementary schools to provide recess every day.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, among other groups, recommends at least 150 minutes of PE a week for elementary schoolers—that means an average of 30 minutes a day. The association also urges schools to schedule at least one 20-minute recess period every day. If your child's school doesn't meet these goals (many don't), ask the principal or school board to consider changes—and look for ways to help your child stay active outside of school hours.

Physical Activities at the Park, Playing Field, or Pool

By early elementary school—age 6 or 7—most kids have the physical coordination and attention span, plus the ability to grasp rules, which they need to play organized sports. A few years later—between ages 10 and 12—most can handle the added pressure of team competition.

Look for classes and recreational leagues that stress fitness, skill-building, fair play, and most of all, fun. Ask your child what sports he's interested in, and give him the opportunity to try many different activities. You both might be surprised at what he's good at and loves to do!

If your child enjoys team sports, try:

If your child prefers individual pursuits, consider:

Physical Activities at Home

Provide kids with as much time and space to play as you can. Encourage lots of different physical activities. Mixing it up helps keep kids from getting bored, and also helps work many muscle groups. Emphasize fun and action (not competition or "shoulds").

Try these family fitness ideas (hey, you could probably use some exercise too!):

  • Walking or hiking (find a trail near you)
  • Biking or in-line skating
  • Jumping rope or spinning a hula hoop
  • Playing catch or Frisbee
  • Outdoor games like tag, Mother May I, or Red Light, Green Light
  • Indoor dance parties
  • Running in the sprinkler, spraying each other with a hose, or other water play activities
  • Sledding or snow-shoeing

Sources

National Association for Sport and Physical Education & American Heart Association. (2010). 2010 Shape of the nation report: Status of physical education in the USA. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Parsad, B., and Lewis, L. (2006). Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005 (NCES 2006–057). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

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