It has been a decade since the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans have been updated and unfortunately, our kids are becoming less active. More than 80 percent of adolescents do not meet the aerobic exercise recommendations, children spend more than seven hours daily in front of a screen, and only six states require gym class in every grade, according to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  This decline in physical activity has contributed to the rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the risk of heart disease.

We know the health benefits of physical activity in children and adolescents are not limited to preventing excessive weight gain and improving bone and heart health. It also helps them with mental health by improving sleep, reducing anxiety and the risk of depression as well as having a more positive self-image.  Our kids need to move more, but how much is needed to gain the benefits?

What's new in the report?

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines advisory committee updated the 2008 guidelines by looking at how physical activity affects the health of children younger than 6 years, and how sedentary behavior effects the health of children and adolescents.  The report found that increased physical activity improves bone health and reduces the risk of excessive weight gain in children ages 3 to 6 years.  Getting consistent physical activity builds more muscle mass and improves heart and bone health, as well as prevents excessive weight gain in children and adolescents.  In addition, the report concluded that sedentary behavior and increased "screen time" are related to poorer health in this population.

How much physical activity is recommended?

The 2018 recommendations include the following:

1. Preschool children ages 3 through 5 years are encouraged to be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development. Younger children can participate in a variety of activities such as playing outside, and games such as tag and throwing and catching.

2. Children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years should participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. The 60 minutes does not need to be continuous, and moderate activities can include brisk walking, bike riding, and less intense recreational sports.

3. Within the 60 minutes of daily activity, children and adolescents should engage in strength training and vigorous intense physical activities at least 3 days per week. Vigorous intense activities can include running and playing team sports such as soccer, basketball, and cycling.

How can parents promote physical activity?

Physical activity is learned from having an active family and it needs to be fun. If your child is not involved in sports daily, here are some ways to get him more physically active:

  • Get outside and take a walk or play in the backyard when the weather is nice.
  • Go sledding, skiing, or play in the snow during the colder months.
  • Schedule activity time—plan a time to exercise daily either after school or after dinner with friends or family.
  • Use technology to your advantage by playing indoor sports video games or a dance competition.
  • Get up every 30 minutes when watching TV, doing homework or during computer time to walk around the block, do sit-ups or push-ups, jumping jacks, jump rope or other activities to break a sweat.

Need some more ideas? Other ways to get your child moving can be found at:  Let's Move, Philly Girls in Motion, Healthy Kids Running Series, and at Kid's Eat Right.