Fitness for Kids
It’s never too soon to encourage a love of physical activity in kids by
exposing them to fun fitness activities and sports. Doctors say that
participating in different activities develops motor skills and muscles and reduces
the risk of developing overuse injuries. In the Physical Activity Guidelines
for Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS) recommends children get at least one hour of exercise every day.
This may seem like a lot, but it’s easy to see how the minutes
can add up when you consider all of the running and playing an active child does on
a daily basis.
Here are some guidelines to help you choose age-appropriate fitness
activities for your kids.
Age 5 and Younger
Preschoolers can play team sports like
soccer, basketball, or T–ball as long as your expectations
are realistic. Any sport at this age should be about play, not competition. Most
5-year-old children aren’t coordinated enough to hit a pitched ball and don’t
have true ball-handling skills on the soccer field or basketball court.
Preschoolers tend to love water. It’s
fine to introduce kids to water safety between 6 months and 3 years old. The American Red Cross, the
country’s leading water safety and instruction organization, recommends that
preschoolers and their parents first enroll in a basic course. These usually
teach blowing bubbles and underwater exploration before starting formal
swimming lessons. Children are ready to learn breath control, floating, and
basic strokes at about age 4 or 5.
Ages 6 to 8
Children have developed
enough by age 6 that it’s possible for them to hit a pitched baseball and pass
a soccer ball or basketball. They can also do gymnastics routines and
confidently pedal and steer a two-wheeled bike. Now is the time to expose
children to diverse athletic and fitness-related activities.
stress growth plates differently, and the variety helps ensure healthy overall development.
Overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and heel pain in soccer players, are
increasingly common and happen when kids play the same sport season after
Ages 9 to 11
coordination really kicks in at this point. Children are usually able to hit
and accurately throw a baseball and make solid contact with a golf or tennis ball.
It’s okay to encourage competition, as long as you don’t put all the focus on
winning. If children are interested in participating in events such as short
triathlons or distance running races, these are safe as long as children have
trained for the event and maintain healthy hydration.
Ages 12 to 14
lose interest in the structured environment of organized sports as they reach
adolescence. They may wish to focus instead on strength- or muscle-building
exercises. Unless your child has entered puberty, discourage lifting heavy
weights. Encourage healthier options, such as stretchy tubes and bands, as well
as body-weight exercises like squats and push-ups. These develop strength
without putting bones and joints in danger. Prepubescent kids should never attempt
a one-rep max in the weight room. Children are at the biggest risk of injury during
periods of growth spurts, such as those experienced during the early teenage
years. A child who lifts too much weight or uses incorrect form when throwing
or running can break bones.
Age 15 and Older
Once your teen has
gone through puberty and is ready to lift weights, urge them to take a
weight-training class or a few sessions with an expert. Poor form can harm
muscles and cause
If your high
schooler expresses interest in endurance events like triathlons or marathons, there’s
no reason to say no. Just keep an eye on nutrition and hydration, and learn to
recognize the signs of heat-related illness. Remember that proper training is
just as important for teens as it is for their parents. Many races have minimum
Building a healthy foundation is important for
raising children into healthy adults. Children are naturally active and
encouraging this with fitness guidance will create lasting habits.