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January 11, 2019

Most kids aren’t getting enough physical activity. Are yours?

Pediatricians: More than half of U.S. children are not moving for the recommended 60 minutes each day

Children's Health Katie's Baby
01112019_bike_child_Pexels Agung Pandit Wiguna/from Pexels


The leading organization of pediatricians in the United States recently released a study showing that most children are not getting enough exercise each day.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says that physical activity is a “vital sign” of health, more than half of children in the United States are not moving for the recommended 60 minutes each day. Why is this a problem?

For toddlers, children and adolescents, physical activity improves strength and endurance, builds healthy bones and lean muscles, develops motor skills and coordination, and promotes emotional health by reducing feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise builds self-esteem, increases stability, control skills and thinking skills. Children who are routinely active are less likely to become overweight or obese, thereby decreasing the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Active kids tend to be more optimistic, sleep better and process and manage challenges more easily. Physical activity improves social connections and quality of life.

Those are a lot of reasons to make your child’s exercise a priority.

Parents should not assume their children are getting enough activity at school. 

The American Heart Association suggests that children two years and older should be in motion with moderate-intensity for 60 minutes a day. That means an hour every day of jumping, running, kicking, playing and racing around. For toddlers and preschoolers, that means a lot of free play every day either outside or with stimulating toys that do not include media like TV and tablets.

Presented last November, the results of the three-year study of nearly 8,000 children showed that only about five percent are physically active for an hour every day. The AAP says most of the kids who are currently meeting the 420 minutes of physical activity each week are at risk of injury and burnout, because their exercise is being concentrated into a few days rather than spread out over seven. Physical activity, especially for littles ones, should be done in 10- or 15-minutes increments, rather than for an extended period of time. It is crucial that young children alternate between play and rest. Older children can have longer periods of active engagement.

It is important to note that the recommendations for daily exercise are the same for boys and girls, yet young males tend to be more physically active than young females. The AAP study showed that boys averaged about an hour of physical activity every week more than girls. Boys were also nearly 40 percent more likely be active for 420 minutes over a week.

If you are the parent of school-aged children, you may assume that your kids are getting enough activity there. But because many school districts have limited free play and cut back on physical education and sports, it is more important than ever to ensure your kids are meeting recommendations for active play and physical activity outside of school.

Understanding the importance of daily movement and how difficult it can be to peel yourself off a warm, comfy couch when the temps are in the teens, here are some recommendations to get the whole family moving this winter.


Kids love to dance! Whether you throw a dance party in your kitchen, enroll your little ones in dance classes at a local studio or host a playdate with friends that includes costumes and music, dancing is a perfect way to get your children up and moving. Not to mention laughing and having fun! Studies show that music and movement have a tremendous, positive effect on children and benefits adults in a ton of ways, too.


Gym memberships can be pricey, but many offer facilities for both adults and children with caregivers to play with your little ones while you lift weights and hit the elliptical. Places like The Little Gym offer a space specifically designed for kids to enjoy, with padded floors and walls and equipment that is just the right size. If visiting or joining a gym is not an option, there are a lot of resources online to plan at-home workouts for the whole family.


Seek out and enroll your children in activities that get them moving. The Free Library of Philadelphia offers free classes that incorporate movement, like playgroups and dance parties. There is no shortage of athletic activities and sports in our area for little ones to try. There are running clubs, events at kids gyms, bowling leagues, karate classes, skating rinks – any age-appropriate physical activity will work!


Physical activity is important for people of all ages, which means parents should be prioritizing their physical activity, too. Even when the day is crazy busy, carve out some time to join your kids in fun exercise. Running around, dancing, playing ball, and building a snowman is going to benefit your overall health, plus create some new special memories with your little ones. And when they see you prioritizing exercise, they will too.


Whether you live in an apartment or house, there is plenty of room indoors for physical fun. A friend of mine helps squeeze that extra energy out of her girls by having them run “races” around her house. Push-ups and sit-ups can be turned into a friendly competition. Doing chores and cleaning can be a surprising source of cardio. Yoga does not require a lot of space or equipment. Rotate through these ideas each week and add new activities to your routines.


It isn’t just important for kids to get 60 minutes of exercise every day; children should also play outside every day. Even in winter! Experts say that as long as the temperature is above 25 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not precipitating, and they are appropriately bundled in warm layers, children should get fresh air and run around outside each day. Getting outside is beneficial for adults, too, so grab your coat and engage your kids in fun outdoor play like tag, ball or jump rope. Babies need fresh air, too! Nestle your little one against your chest or swaddle them in a stroller and take a walk. If you get home after the sun has gone down, chores like walking the dog, checking the mail or taking out the trash are simple ways to get you and your little one out for a bit.


Tis the season for resolutions! So here are a few of mine. Understanding how crucial physical activity is for my son’s current, developing and future health and wellness, I am going to ensure he has an hour of active play every day. Even on the coldest, grayest days, Killian and I are going to bundle up and get outside for fresh air and fun. Even on those cozy weekends when my slippers feel like they are surgically attached, my family is going to get out and get after it. Whether that means taking a hike, playing basketball, sledding, fishing or simply running around in the yard or park, all of us – especially my beautiful, growing baby boy – will be better for it.

What kinds of physical activities and exercise do your little ones enjoy? What are your tips for staying active and getting outside in the winter? Share your thoughts with me and other parents in the comments section below or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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