Kids Need Activity Too

LAST UPDATED: October 06, 2017

It’s important for children to engage in physical activity. Be a good role model. Your health is critical to the well-being of your family. The more active you are, the more likely your kids will follow suit.

Children and adolescents (ages 6-17) need at least:

  • 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day
  • 11,000 steps for girls and 13,000 steps for boys each day
  • 3 days of muscle strengthening physical activity per week

Benefits of regular activity

  • Helps manage weight and reduces risk for obesity
  • Reduces risk of developing chronic disease in adulthood
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Can reduce anxiety and stress
  • May increase self-esteem
  • May help improve concentration, classroom behavior, and grades

Tips for increasing your child’s activity

  • Reduce screen time (TV, computer, video games, and phones).
  • Take a family walk after dinner.
  • Play at the park or go for a family bike ride or hike.
  • Explore opportunities to learn a new activity (such as martial arts, dance, or yoga).
  • Volunteer for your child’s sports team or physical activity event.
  • Invite your child(ren) to take part in your physical activity.
Benefits of physical activities for children and adolescents
*moderate or vigorous activity
Activity Aerobic* Muscle-strengthening Bone-strengthening
Running X   X
Skipping X   X
Swimming X    
Jumping rope X   X
Swinging or climbing on playground equipment X X  
Bicycling X    
Dancing X    
Tag X    
Flag football X    
Push-ups/Pull-ups   X  
Sit-ups   X  
Sports (like volleyball, basketball, tennis) X   X
Martial arts (e.g., karate) X X  
Weight lifting   X X
Brisk walking X    

Youth strength training

Strength training can benefit boys and girls of all abilities regardless of participation on a sports team. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) states that youth strength training may increase muscle strength and may also improve motor skills. Strength training with heavy weights (bodybuilding, power lifting or maximum lifts) is not recommended because of the potential for injuries to the long bones, growth plates (areas that produce new bone tissue and determine the final length and shape of bones in adulthood), and back. Proper technique and safety are key— not how much weight can be lifted.

Early studies suggest youth strength training may:

  • Decrease some sports injuries by increasing the strength of bones and the tendons and ligaments (the tissues that attach to bone and muscle).
  • Increase muscle size in adolescents. This is unlikely in younger children who lack adequate levels of muscle-building hormones.
  • Help with weight loss.

How many sets and repetitions (reps) should my child do?

Although there are no scientific reports outlining the number of sets and reps, ACSM suggests:

  • 1-3 sets of 6-15 reps performed 2-3 times per week (do not perform on back-to-back days. Skip at least one day in between sessions).
  • Start with one set of several upper and lower body exercises that focus on the major muscle groups.
  • Gradually increase the weight or the number of sets and reps to make the program more challenging.
  • More experienced individuals should use multiple (3–5) sets to get the most out of their program.
  • Use 3–5 sets of 6–12 reps as a base to build strength and muscle.
  • There are many ways to progress your program. One method is the “8/10/12” approach. Pick a weight at which you can do a set of 8 reps for, and then move to 10 and then 12 in the workouts to come. When you can do 3–5 sets of 12 reps, advance your weight and start at sets of 8 reps again.

Is youth strength training safe?

Strength training can be safe and effective for healthy children and adolescents if they can follow directions and if the programs are properly designed and knowledgeably supervised. Check with your child’s doctor prior to starting a program.

Strength training injury risks are no greater than those of other youth sports and activities. Currently, there is no indication that height is decreased in children who regularly strength train with a qualified instructor. No growth plate fractures were reported in any study that was knowledgeably supervised and designed. Strength training won’t “stunt your child’s growth;” don’t worry!

However, parents, coaches, teachers, fitness instructors should be aware of the risks associated with poorly designed programs, unqualified trainers, and/or inadequate supervision.

For additional information see the ACSM Facts and Fallacies article.

Resources for more information on activity

  • Army H.E.A.L.T.H. designed to help you maintain or lose weight and to improve your fitness by providing personalized nutrition and fitness plans.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also has great information about the importance of strength training.
  • Let’s Move! Website provides information and resources for parents to improve children’s activity and nutrition.
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