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healthy living

Start family fitness early Make sure your kids get plenty of activity each day L e a Hans o n


ere in Colorado, we enjoy living in one of the thinnest states. Although our statewide obesity rate consistently hovers around only 20 percent, we cannot take our general thinness for granted. Childhood obesity is a direct indicator for obesity in adulthood. Obesity at any age leads to several health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and more. Living in a place where we are surrounded by mostly healthy-sized people can make the importance of activity and fitness seem heavy at times. And, if we’re active parents, we may find ourselves chomping at the bit for the day when we can include our children in our activities and hobbies. Can your child work out? Unlike most of the reasons adults workout, such as to build strength, maintain cardiovascular health, and maintain weight, kids’ exercise is most beneficial for different reasons. Exercise for young kids (6 and under) should be geared toward building coordination, motor skills, and personal development such as confidence and learning to work in teams. The most important cue for parents in determining when their child is ready for organized and structured exercise is their gut. If your gut tells you it is too soon for your child to work out, you probably are right. If your child isn’t interested in athletic training or doesn’t have appropriate supervision and guidance, then it’s probably better to hold off for a while. Although there is no set age at which children should start to exercise, it’s never too early to encourage your child to be physically active. Physical activity does not, however, have to be in the form of a structured exercise program. Experts recommend different types of physical activity for different age groups.



Organized sports Most pediatricians agree that children ages 6 to 8 are old enough to begin playing organized sports. Beginning in a noncompetitive league is best, but there is confidence gained by being a part of a team that works together to win or working hard to meet a personal goal in an individual sport. Balance teaching confidence and pride in success with pressure and stress. Strength training According to, strength training can become a part of your child’s exercise program as early as 7 to 8 years of age, but only if s/he can follow instructions easily and is mature enough to understand the importance of performing the exercises correctly. Your child should fully understand that strength training at this age is meant to improve muscle tone and increase endurance, not bulk up. Your child is not a miniature adult. Lifting weights won’t create bigger muscles in a child who hasn’t yet reached puberty, and using heavy weights can cause injury to muscles and tendons. A qualified trainer or coach should supervise your child’s strength training at this age. How much exercise? The National Association for Sport and Physical Education gives specific

recommendations for how much exercise your child needs.

• Toddlers should get at least 90 minutes of physical activity each day – 30 minutes of planned activity and 60 minutes of free play. • Preschoolers need 60 minutes of structured activity and 60 minutes of free play each day. • Children 5 to 12 years of age need at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.

Remember, what counts as physical activity to a child differs from what we adults consider to be exercise. Kids’ regimens only need to be measured in minutes active. Meaning, not sitting. Playtime at the park, riding a tricycle or balance bike, or helping with yard work are all great options. Model an active lifestyle The most effective way to teach your child the importance of fitness is by modeling an active lifestyle. Pushing kids in strollers or allowing them to ride their bikes while you run, family bike rides and active hobbies such as skiing and hiking are great examples. Make your exercise apparent to your children by pointing out that you do it. Discuss when and why you exercise and make sure your kids know that you enjoy being active.

Start Family Fitness Early  
Start Family Fitness Early  

Healthy Living column for Rocky Mountain Parent Magazine, April 2014 issue