Kids and Adolescents
You don't need to sign your toddler up for every pee-wee league in your district just to meet the recommended one hour of moderate activity a day and three hours of vigorous activity a week. "This is actually easier to accomplish than most adults realize," says Calabrese—who's also the chairperson for her school PTA's health and wellness committee. "If a child is getting to bed at a reasonable time at night and sleeping [according to current standards] and eats primarily nutritious, wholesome foods, they are going to naturally want to play hard." According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers (ages 1 to 3 years) should get 12 to 18 hours of sleep per 24-hour period; preschoolers (3 to 5 years) need 11 to 13 hours; school-aged kids (ages five to 12) need 10-11 hours.
She says exercise can start first thing in the morning. "When children eat well and sleep well, they wake up energized, [so] it's possible for them—and encouraged and highly beneficial—to engage in 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous play even before leaving for school." Because, in truth, teachers and schools can't be relied on to ensure students' exercise needs: Only Illinois has daily physical education classes, which means parents in other states are in charge of lining up physical activity opportunities.
Calabrese offers these tips for parents:
- Fuel your child for exercise. "When children get home from school, have a healthy snack prepared and take advantage of another opportunity then for organized play," she says.
- Match your child's personality to the sorts of activities you offer and encourage. "Some children prefer to exercise using more solo activities, such as riding a bike or skate boarding," notes Calabrese. "Others like to gather with friends for a game of soccer or basketball, and still others enjoy being on an organized league or team such as swimming or baseball." Talk with your child about his or her preferences for playing, and help him or her organize or access games and playtime as possible.
- Mix it up! "For children, exercise should not feel like boot camp," Calabrese says. Help your child try new sports and activities that build some combination of these super-important abilities: strength, endurance, balance, coordination, speed, agility, team building, flexibility, and sportsmanship.
- Don't call it a night yet. "Once dinner is done, [you have] another perfect opportunity to go for a family walk, have some races around the house, take the dog for a run, play Frisbee, go for a bike ride, take a martial arts class, or engage in a lesson the entire family would enjoy such as rock climbing or tennis," Calabrese says.
- Truncate tube time. "When you consider that children average watching four hours of TV a day, it's easy to free up one of them for exercise, especially if it's broken up throughout the day," Calabrese says. Besides, most children are not likely to exercise consecutively for an hour.
- Keep on it! If your child gripes at your offers for family hikes, suggest a trip to the batting cages. If roller-blading falls flat for your family, see where you can rent snowshoes. Whatever you do, just don't give up impressing how important it is to stay active. "Children who exercise have better immune systems, better attitudes, better grades, and are more socially adapted," Calabrese says. And what's more, they're looking to you to lead by example.