Facts About Exercise for Kids

Mother and daughter running on street

It has become somewhat of a joke concerning the older generation lecturing kids on how much more difficult life was “back in my day.” The older folks walked uphill to school in the snow, they claimed. That may be a cliché, but the fact is kids don’t exercise as much as they did in past generations. Computers, video games and cable TV are largely responsible. But kids need exercise, no matter the generation.

Not Enough Can Lead to Obesity

The amount of overweight kids in the United States tripled from a little more than 5 percent in 1980 to 16 percent in 2002, according to The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. And, from the 1960s to 2002, the amount of overweight kids has quadrupled, according to the American Council on Exercise. Children are experiencing problems from being overweight -- such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure -- that were once reserved mostly for adults.

Exercise Helps Academically

Kids who exercise do better in school. ACE cites a U.S. study of 12,000 teens: The teens who were active in physical education class, team sports or who exercised with parents were compared to sedentary kids. The kids who exercised were 20 percent more likely to receive an “A” in English and math. Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard clinical associate professor of psychiatry, told ACE that exercise releases “proteins into the bloodstream that increase the production of brain chemicals …” He referred to exercise as “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”

Improves Health

Exercise improves health and fitness for kids, just as it does for adults. The President’s Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that infants, toddlers and preschool children should be active at least 60 minutes a day and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time while awake. Most of the 60 minutes of exercise for kids should be aerobic activity, such as running or brisk walking. Some muscle strengthening -- such as gymnastics, playing on a jungle gym and doing push-ups -- is also good. But children don’t need to lift weights; that is better suited for teens. Playing jump rope is a good exercise to strengthen bones. Many kids get their daily exercise needs met by joining a sports team.

Develops Social Skills

Physical activity can help kids develop empathy and leadership skills, according to Dr. Rick Nauert, Senior News Editor for PsychCentral. Researchers at the University of Michigan tested middle school kids. They found that the kids who scored the highest in leadership skills and who displayed empathy were more physically active. Kids who played on a sports team also scored higher in both areas. Being part of an athletic team also builds self-esteem and helps keep kids from drugs and alcohol, according to Nauert.