While getting up in the morning can be challenging for adults, kids are little balls of energy from the moment they open their eyes and often wake up with a “pep in their step.” While it may be hard for parents to tackle that enthusiasm early in the morning, this type of energy, when directed properly, can actually be a healthy for children!
Physical activity and exercise can prevent obesity in children, promote bone formation, increase self-esteem, and lower their risk for depression.
How active do kids actually need to be to get these effects? To answer this question, we’ll need to look at the different stages of a child’s life. During the first year of life, babies are encouraged to engage in supervised ‘tummy time’ at least once per day. Think of it as the baby equivalent of a gym session. In addition, any active playing and safe exploring will help these tiny tots develop. As well, while many parents often struggle with this, introducing screen time of any kind — including television, laptops or smart phones — is not recommended for this age group.
When looking at children ages 1 through 4, the goal is at least one hour per day of activity and another hour of “structured exercise” such as games or sports. Just as importantly, children in this age group should not be sitting still for more than an hour at a time. By the time children hit age 5, school is introduced and with it will come long hours of sitting still followed by, what some parents call “way too much” homework. At this stage, it is recommend that children engage in at least one hour of activity per day including, at least three days a week where this hour is truly vigorous activity.
How can parents help their children meet these physical activity goals? The first step is to cut down on time in front of TVs, computers and smartphones and try to schedule activity time into the whole family’s daily routine. I promise you, your children will remember the times they were running around or taking a walk with mom or dad much more fondly than binge watching Netflix.
Search for everyday activities that can incorporate physical movement such as walking to the bus stop or to the grocery store instead of driving. If that is not convenient where you live, perhaps try to make a habit out of stopping at the park on the way home from school to just take a walk and play for an hour before going home and starting homework.
Speaking of parks, it is important to note that many Miami-Dade County public parks offer after school and sports programs that your child can engage in. The Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces website, www.miamidade.gov/parks, can help you search for parks and activities in your area. This will not only help to incorporate physical activity but your child may find they enjoy a particular sport or exercise and look forward to participating. The county’s Fit2Play program is another wonderful option specifically designed by an amazing team of researchers to help children achieve health and wellness. Each day’s session begins with sports, play an active recreation for kids (SPARK). As well, each of these programs have specific options for children with special health care needs.
If your child will engage in outdoor activities under the hot South Florida sun, be aware that sunburn and dehydration are very frequent medical complaints. Using sunscreen and reapplying it frequently is a must. Furthermore, should hydrate on water — not juices or sugary drinks — especially when doing strenuous exercise. For kids 9 to 12, pediatricians recommend three to eight ounces of water every 20 minutes. For adolescents, intake of water should increase to 34 to 50 ounces per hour.
Being active together and making a conscious effort to invest time into getting some fresh air and exercise is a great idea for any family. Parents may find that that this will not only benefit their child, but them as well.
Jelte Kelchtermans, M.D., is a pediatric resident at the University of Miami and Holtz Children’s Hospital. For more information, visit UHealth.com/patients/pediatrics.