- Kids should exercise for about an hour a day to improve coordination and muscle strength.
- Some fun exercises for kids include running, jumping, skipping, and bear crawls.
- Kids should also do muscle-building exercises like supermans, squats, and crab walks.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle for children as it lays the foundation for future healthy habits. It can also decrease the risk of becoming overweight in adulthood or developing type 2
Targeting certain muscle groups early can also prepare your child for more complex motor skills later on, like dribbling a basketball or riding a bike. Here is how much your child should be exercising based on their age:
Important: While exercise is important, there is such thing as too much. As a parent, pay close attention to your child to see if they exhibit signs of over-exercising like, loss of interest in an activity, fatigue, depression, or stress fractures.
Those recommendations may seem daunting, but the good news is children can meet them through typical childhood games and imaginative play.
Here are eight easy and fun exercises for kids and tips to incorporate them into your child’s day.
Running can improve cardiovascular health in children.
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Running not only helps kids develop healthy hearts, lungs, and coordination, but it can also improve cognitive performance, mental health, and academic performance says Candice Taylor Lucas, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine.
A 2008 review found that aerobic physical activity, like running, improved academic performance.
How to do it: Young kids typically enjoy games like tag or freeze that encourage running by chasing each other, says Ryan Ingley AT, an athletic trainer with Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine. Older kids might enjoy games that require more strategy like capture the flag, which involves two competing teams trying to capture each other’s flag and bring it back to their own home base.
Jumping helps work leg muscles like the glutes and hamstrings.
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Jumping is another fundamental skill that builds on bouncing, which children typically are able to do by 18 months, Lucas says. Like running, jumping also helps develop balance and coordination while strengthening leg and core muscles.
A small 2018 study of boys aged 10 to 12, had one group complete a
training program three times a week, while the other completed a regular physical education program without jumping rope. The jump rope group gained more strength and endurance over a 10 week period than the group that did not complete a jump rope program.
How to do it: According to Lucas, here are some fun ideas to get your child to jump:
- Engage in pretend activities at home or outside that involve jumping like a frog or kangaroo with your child.
- Instead of freeze dance, try playing freeze jump. Turn on some music and jump when it’s on and stop when it’s off.
- For older kids, try incorporating jumping into relay races, like a potato sack race where kids stand inside a potato sack or pillowcase and jump to a finish line.
Skipping is a build-off of jumping and can be incorporated into relay races.
Skipping is a more coordinated movement that builds upon running and jumping skills, Lucas says. Skipping also improves balance and coordination as well as timing and proprioception skills, or the ability to sense your body’s position and movements.
How to do it: Some ways you can encourage your kids to skip include:
- Substitute skipping for running in tag or freeze games.
- Have your children race skipping across a field or your backyard.
- Play freeze skip similar to freeze jump but skip while the music is playing.
4. Bear crawls
Incorporate bear crawls into a relay race.
Bear crawls are full-body movements that help increase strength and coordination, Ingley says. They target the following muscle groups:
- Upper body muscles, including shoulders, chest, and arms.
- Lower body muscles, including quadriceps and hamstrings in the legs.
You can encourage small children to do bear crawls by tapping into their imaginations, Lucas says. Have your children pretend to be bears, moving around in a forest looking for food or trying to catch another animal.
How to do it:
- Start on all fours with both hands and feet on the ground.
- Keep your arms shoulder-width apart and your hips up in the air.
- Move forward, starting with your right hand and left foot and then your left hand and right foot.
5. Crab walks
Try using imaginative play to get your child to do crab walks.
Crab walks are another muscle-strengthening exercise that can help improve coordination, Ingley says. Like bear crawls, crab walks target many muscle groups, including:
“These are great for kids who are sitting all day and for building upper body strength,” Lucas says. “Like bear crawls, these also foster an active play opportunity that leans on a child’s imagination.”
Younger kids might enjoy pretending to be crabs walking along the sand on a beach while older kids might enjoy racing each other while doing crab walks.
How to do it:
- Start by sitting up with both your knees bent pointing upward and both feet flat on the floor.
- Place your hands flat on the floor and slightly behind your back.
- Lift your hips off the floor and walk backward.
Teach your kids how to squat and then see who can hold it the longest.
Squats help improve strength and stability while targeting several lower body muscle groups, including:
- Hip flexors
Latest research: A 2019 analysis found resistance training, like squats, had a positive effect on the development of other motor skills, including sprinting, jumping, and throwing in children ages 5 to 18.
How to do it: Here are some ideas to encourage squatting for kids:
- For young kids or toddlers, put a toy on the ground in front of them while they are standing. This may encourage them to squat in order to look at it.
- For older kids, make a game out of seeing how high they can jump.
- For teens, you can make squats more challenging by encouraging them to squat with a backpack of books on their back.
Important: When doing squats make sure your child keeps their knees over their toes and pushes their hips back behind them.
Encourage your child to join you when practicing yoga certain yoga poses.
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7 science-backed physical and mental health benefits of yoga
- Improved focus, memory, and self-esteem
- Improved academic performance
- Less disruptive behavior in school
How to do it: There are many ways to encourage your child to do yoga, including:
Pretend you and your child are flying when doing superman.
A superman is a muscle-strengthening exercise that works your abdominal and back muscles, Ingley says. You can encourage your child to do a superman by pretending to be superheroes flying through the sky.
How to do it:
- Lay facedown on the ground with legs on the floor and arms stretched out in front, above the head.
- Lift your legs and arms off the ground at the same time, engaging your abdominal and back muscles.
Kids and teens need at least an hour of aerobic exercise a day and an hour of muscle-strengthening exercises three times a week.
You can encourage different types of exercise by incorporating them into imaginative play or games.
While the exercises listed above are great for kids, finding what they already enjoy and encouraging them to explore their own interests will likely be more successful than trying to develop a specific exercise plan.
“Encouraging free play, outdoor exploration, and involvement in activities, games, or sports are the best ways to get kids physically active,” Ingley says.
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