Kids Love Dr. Barton

Exercise for Kids

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 04/29/2009

When I wrote last week about exercise, I focused my advice on you, the parent. Now… what about the kids? It goes without saying that exercise is critical for children. Other than what you feed your kids (and the love you provide them), exercise is one of the most important health issues in your child’s life. But what is “exercise” to a kid? You can’t really put them on a treadmill. Besides, you can barely keep up with them during the day because they are always on the run…doesn’t that count as exercise?

Exercise for kids is a tricky thing, as demonstrated by how often I hear the comment, “But doctor, he plays football…why is he still overweight?” The current exercise recommendation for children and adolescents is one hour a day, five or more days a week. Since children’s maximal heart rate is higher than adults, their heart rate for useful exercise is as much as 150 or higher. This is sustained heart rate over the course of an hour (or more).

Using the above definition, football practice once a week with a game once a week is NOT exercise. While the heart rate may get high, it doesn’t do so for a full hour and the practice is only once a week. “But he also plays a game once a week!” During that game, he may have more intense activity, which is good, but I suspect that he has even less time in sustained activity. The same goes for so many other sports. Sports are good for you, but they don’t have the sustained level of activity that kids need in order to call it “exercise.” Two sports I can think of that do have enough activity are soccer and hockey. But the problem, once again, is that the kids usually only do these activities once or twice a week, instead of the needed five days a week.

Gym class also doesn’t meet the requirement. Most children these days only have gym class two or three times a week, and the actual amount of exercise in these classes is of short duration, say 10-20 minutes total time with an elevated heart rate. Neither of these quantities is enough.

So, what should you do for kids? Anything that gets them out running around, riding bikes hard or swimming hard! It doesn’t all have to be in one batch, but try to accumulate around an hour of vigorous activity almost every day. Once this is well established, it becomes a lifestyle. Once it’s a lifestyle, kids tend to keep it up even into adulthood. So make it a habit! Get outside, run around with the kids. Make them work up a bit of a sweat and you’ll both start to see the benefits!





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