How Much Exercise Should My Children Get Every Day?

December 20, 2011

By Dr. Luke Tremble, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Pediatrics, Appleton. 

Increased exercise and physical activity clearly has a beneficial impact on the overall physical, social and emotional well-being of an individual. Unfortunately, there has been an on-going trend in our society of decreasing amounts of physical activity and increasing amounts of sedentary behavior. This has directly resulted in an increased rate of obesity. 

In fact, children are less active and more overweight now than any previous generation. On average, children are now spending three hours or more per day in front of the television and only about half of children between the ages of 6 and 18 exercise regularly. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children and adolescents aged 6-17 should do one hour or more of physical activity every single day. This activity should be either moderate or vigorous in intensity and it is also important to include activities that increase bone and muscle strength. 

There have been some increased efforts to promote activity in our youth, but this has been done primarily by the schools alone. With this approach, success has been somewhat limited. It is important to start promoting exercise and increased physical activity in other settings, such as at home, with peers and in the community. We know that as children age, they tend to exercise less. This can be altered if the family supports and encourages exercise.  

Children are more likely to be active and exercise if they have parents who are active. It is also known that if children have an active lifestyle when they are young, they are more likely to be active as an adult. Furthermore, children tend to be more active if they have physically active peers and if they are engaged in a community that offers physically active opportunities. 

Children and adolescents will definitely improve their health and quality of life if increased physical activity is incorporated into their daily life. It is vital that health professionals, families, peers, schools, role models and communities make a concerted effort to increase physical activity in our youth. Hopefully by accomplishing this goal we will be able to reverse the current trend of increasing obesity and decreasing amounts of physical activity in our children.