The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


New Recommendations for Exercise in Children

Posted in
Move more

Thursday, Aug 29, 2013

As we mentioned last week, it is “back to school” time! So since we are on the topic of kids, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to present some recent research relating to their physical activity recommendations. You may be aware that the physical activity guidelines for kids differ from that of adults. Try to jog your memory. Do they need more or less than us adults? The answer (spelt backwards to give you a chance to answer it on your own)—EROM! Many people have the misconception that kids don’t have to worry about their health, however disease processes begin at these young ages and many are already at increased risk due to poor lifestyle choice—yes even at the age of 6 and younger. The current physical activity guidelines, both with health/disease prevention and development in mind, state:

Youth can gain substantial health benefits by doing moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes (1 hour) or more each day. This activity should include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone–strengthening activities.

These guidelines were developed for children ages 6-17.  But what about children younger than this and is 60 minutes enough? Recent research sought to answer this. The study looked at over 3,000 children from 8 European countries ages 2 to 9 years who were broken into a younger category, 2-6 and an older category, 6-9 (Jiménez-Pavón et al, 2013). It was found that physical activity recommendations specifically in regards to reducing cardiovascular disease risk actually varied by age.  Approximately 73 minutes/day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was necessary for young boys and 58 minutes/day for young girls. For the older children, approximately 85 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was needed for boys and approximately 66 minutes for girls. This research is unique in that it addresses recommendations for younger children. We have known activity is important for them but specific recommendations had not been identified. What is also interesting about these results is that they suggest that greater amounts of physical activity are needed to influence cardiovascular disease risk as children get older.

The official guideline of 60 minutes has not changed but getting your kids to be more active can’t hurt. Now you might be thinking how in the world are you going to get your kids to engage in that much physical activity especially now that school has started. Remember that children are naturally active in an intermittent way, particularly when they do unstructured active play. During recess and in their free play and games, children use basic aerobic and bone-strengthening activities, such as running, hopping, skipping, and jumping, to develop movement patterns and skills. They alternate brief periods of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity with brief periods of rest. Any episode of moderate- or vigorous–intensity physical activity, however brief, counts as activity. It’s more of making sure we provide them with enough opportunities to allow them to do what they naturally want to do. Here are some ideas to help you out:

  • Give children toys that encourage physical activity like balls, kites, and jump ropes.
  • Encourage children to join a sports team or try a new physical activity.
  • Visit your local rec center.
  • Challenge your kids to see how many times they can jump on one foot.
  • Teach them a fun new movement pattern and have them see if they can do it faster than you.
  • Have siblings race one another to the car up the driveway.
  • Have them pretend to be their favorite superhero.
  • Limit TV time and keep the TV and other media out of a child’s bedroom.
  • Try having them walk to and from school a few times a week.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Go for a walk after dinner.
  • Make it a house rule that there is no sitting still during television commercials.
  • Find time to spend together doing a fun activity: family park day, swim day or bike day.
While we tend to think of physical activity just as something fun for kids to do, or as a way to burn off all that energy (I know I use it for this especially since I have a 5 year old boy!) but the reality is, it is imperative to their development but maybe more importantly, their health and longevity!


David Jiménez-Pavón, Kenn Konstabel, Patrick Bergman, Wolfgang Ahrens, Hermann Pohlabeln, Charalampos Hadjigeorgiou, Alfonso Siani, Licia Iacoviello, Dénes Molnár, Stefaan De Henauw, Yannis Pitsiladis, Luis A Moreno. (2013). Physical activity and clustered cardiovascular disease risk factors in young children: a cross-sectional study (the IDEFICS study). BMC Medicine; 11 (1): 172 DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-172