New research from the American Heart Association indicates that children today are slower and less fit than their parents were, taking 90 seconds longer to run a mile than kids did 30 years ago. Children’s cardiovascular fitness has also dropped five percent per decade since 1975. This problem isn’t confined to the U.S. either. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 80 percent of the world’s children aren’t getting enough exercise.
Commit yourself to reversing this trend with your family. These tactics will help your crew develop better health and improved energy while having fun.
Toddler/Preschool Years (Ages 2-5)
The good news: Toddlers usually get plenty of exercise, says Beverly J. Allen, professor of physical education and recreation at North Carolina Central University. “Children this age are very active and get the exercise they need from running, jumping, climbing, rolling, bending, and dancing.”
Get physical with your preschooler by playing tag or wrestling together. Have a dance party in the living room, get out the hula hoops, or play Simon Says.
Just don’t encourage copycat workouts — very young kids shouldn’t follow along with grown-up exercises, says Coach Dale Speckman, director and head trainer at Athletic Revolution of Northeast Indianapolis.
“Young children simply aren’t ready for high-repetition, high-intensity workouts like jogging or interval training,” he says. The key instead should be making movement easy and fun.
Elementary Years (Ages 6-12)
For children who like sports, the elementary years bring a whirlwind of new opportunities to stay active, from soccer to softball. But less athletic kids may begin to shirk exercise, particularly if they feel inept at sports.
Fortunately, competitive sports play isn’t the only way kids can get needed exercise, says Allen. Parents can encourage kids to get exercise by establishing a regular family outing, like riding bikes on the Greenline, swimming, or playing at the park or zoo. They can also explore less competitive physical pursuits, like biking or skateboarding. Even jumping on a trampoline can be very heart healthy while developing coordination, and balance.
Whatever pastimes your kids gravitate toward, model the notion that physical activity is enjoyable, not work, says Allen. “Make sure kids have access to fun equipment like skates, Frisbees, and hula hoops.” Then join in the fun.
Teen Years (Ages 13-18)
Watch Out for Sports Injuries
Trend-loving teens may hop on the latest fitness bandwagon to get “shredded” — teen-speak for having a muscular physique. But high-intensity workouts like CrossFit and P90x aren’t suitable for teenagers, says Speckman.
“CrossFit utilizes many Olympic-style lifts that are extremely technical and require high levels of joint mobility and stability. These technical lifts take several weeks to teach in order to perform safely and effectively.” Sports injuries are on the rise in children and teens, something experts attribute to early sport specialization and teens with still-growing bodies performing too many repetitions.
Parents of young fitness enthusiasts should seek trainers who are certified in youth fitness. Even if a trainer has a background in strength or sports training, youth training is vastly different and should be left to a certified professional.