Corinne Austin | Personal Training

Some Healthy Guidelines for Kids & Exercise

Following my last article (which discussed the needs of parents to role model health and fitness to their kids) I had some wonderful feedback – so a big thanks to those who took their time to write to me. One of the big questions that came out of the feedback was about whether there are guidelines for exercise for kids. Great question, read on…

There is now an abundance of scientific evidence which suggests that physical activity for children between the ages of 3 and 17 has fundamental health benefits. Age-relevant levels of physical activity and exercise significantly contributes to the development of:

  • Strong and healthy bones
  • Strengthening of the heart and lungs
  • Postural awareness
  • Neuromuscular awareness (i.e. coordination)
  • A healthy body weight
  • Improved social skills
  • Self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Life-long healthy behaviours
  • Improved academic performance

In 2009, after two years of extensive development, consultations, and expert advice, Fitness NZ released a document which provided guidelines for children exercising in exercise facilities. These guidelines have a wonderful cross-over to how children should exercise in their own home or outdoor environments (not just in gym environments).

Below I have outlined age-relevant physical activity guidelines for your children:

  • Babies – Encourage them to be active from birth by moving their heads, limbs, fingers and toes. Encourage them to reach, push, pull and grasp. Appropriate lengths of tummy time is really important. Whether pre- or post-crawling, all baby activities should be in a supervised and nurturing environment.
  • Toddlers (2-4yrs) – Children who can walk should be physically active for an accumulate 3 hours every day. This can include light activity such as standing, rolling, and playing as well as more vigorous activity such as climbing, chasing, riding trikes, or playing in water.
  • (All of the following groups should be doing 60 minute or more of physical activity every day)
  • Children (5-8yrs) – Physical activity for this group should contribute to all-round development. This includes running, jumping, throwing, catching, balance, twisting, and climbing. Group games, team challenges, and partner activities are loved by this age bracket. Do not use weight machines or cardiovascular machines. Use the child’s own bodyweight as resistance.
  • Children (9-12yrs) – All the activities recommended for the age group above should be incorporated into the physical development of this group. Children over 9 can begin to use light ‘free weights’ for strength training. Activities and exercises should use multi-joint movements and emphasise the big muscle groups. Emphasis can be placed on the childs posture and correct movement patterns. Weight training machines and cardiovascular machines should not be used. Keep it fun.
  • Children (13-17yrs) – All activities recommended for the previous age group should be continued with this group. Depending on the individual child’s ability, equipment designed for adults can be used i.e. kettlebells, medicine balls, dumbbells – as long as the weight is appropriate (i.e. resistance should be light to moderate at most). Weight can be progressively increased once the exercise technique is mastered. Weight training can not be used until child is over 18 years old, but cardiovascular machines can be used if they are not too large for the child’s height.

Physical activity is an important element in the development of children. The skills and habits they derive from exercise and play are critical to a healthy and happy adulthood. Higher activity levels will also help to prevent and combat weight problems. A recent study showed that 74% of parents say they choose to spend quality time with their kids in front of a TV set. Are you providing an environment that encourages physical activity as well as allows your child to obtain their recommended daily exercise dose?

(Fitness NZ needs to be acknowledged for some of the information in this article).

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