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Childhood Exercise: It's Elementary — an article on the Smart Living Network
July 13, 2009 at 12:41 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Childhood Exercise: It's Elementary


We start defining our adult lifestyles in childhood. The habits and routines we adopt at a young age stay with us, or at least influence us, for the rest of our lives. Nowhere is this truer than in our exercise habits. When we are raised with an appreciation of good health through lifestyle choices, that appreciation stays with us, encouraging a healthy approach to physical activity. Knowing this, we want to help our kids develop that appreciation. Although it might be challenging, success is possible though the use of fun and consistency.

Once you have a sense of what your children enjoy and are capable of, get creative and decide how to keep them active at home.

Before implementing your family's exercise routines, it might help to understand the expert recommendations for elementary school-aged children's physical activity:

  • Children should get one to two hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity most days.
  • Children should participate in several 15 minute bouts of physical activity each day.
  • Periods of physical inactivity should not last longer than two hours.
  • Children who have not gone through puberty should not play or exercise with the intent of building large muscles.
  • Organized sports should focus on teamwork, variety, and skill rather than competition and winning.

Ideally, a lot of this activity and exercise would happen at school, with physical education classes and recess. But the reality is that extra-curricular programs have limited funding, and the benefit they might offer now should be incorporated with home life. Additionally, getting kids to move in this era of the Internet, iPods, and portable gaming requires at-home effort. There are a few guidelines to keep in mind when organizing family exercise: Make it age appropriate: Different ages are developing different physical skills. Children age five and under simply need to play and familiarize themselves with healthy, safe movement. Six to eight year olds are sharpening basic jumping, throwing, kicking, and catching skills. Nine to 12 year olds are refining these skills, and might have more interest in specific sports. Keep it safe: Protective equipment, monitoring for overuse of any particular muscle or joint, and essential nutrition and hydration will all help to keep kids from injuring and exhausting themselves during play and exercise. Also, be sure to include children with chronic conditions, but keep a close eye on them as they participate. Do your sports homework: Organized sports should emphasize a child's interest, as well as proper activity for their age level. Be open to team (softball, soccer, hockey, etc.) and "individual" sports (bowling, swimming, fencing, etc.), and cooperate with the coaches and leagues. Once you have a sense of what your children enjoy and are capable of, get creative and decide how to keep them active at home. The following tips might prove useful:

  • Weave movement into daily routines with chores, evening walks, and upstairs bedrooms.
  • Leave time for free play like bike riding, tag, hide-and-seek, sledding, and running around with friends.
  • Stockpile a variety of inexpensive bats, balls, hula-hoops, jump ropes, and sidewalk chalk (for hop scotch).
  • Be an example by exercising yourself and being active with your kids.
  • Set consistent time limits on TV, computer, video games, and even reading as they relate to physical activity.
  • Use neighborhood playgrounds and fields for a change of scenery and options.
  • Look for organized sports activities through parks and recreation departments, religious organizations, and clubs.

Instilling a love of physical movement in our children is so important, and worth the challenges it faces. As long as we remember to be consistent, and make it fun, today's kids will be tomorrow's healthy adults. Sources:

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