Fitness levels among kids are on the decline with only one in four American school children getting enough exercise on a daily basis. Add that to an increase in childhood obesity—nearly 37% of six to 11-year-olds—and our children’s health outlook is diminishing even more.
At a minimum, children should get 35 to 60 minutes of exercise on a daily basis to avoid developing the habits that may lead to obesity and the medical problems that come with it. Regular exercise is essential to building muscle and strong bones and helps to determine how healthy children’s bones will be throughout their life.
The relationship between physical activity and bone health is important to understand. Bones are made of living tissue that develops and grows through regular use. Although the potential size and density of your child’s bones (peak bone mass) are determined by genetics, weight-bearing exercises and their frequency determine whether those bones meet that potential. As children perform regular weight-bearing exercises, their bones build more cells and become stronger. In fact, weight-bearing exercise is needed more during these years of rapid growth than almost any other time in a child’s life.
Activities for kids that help to build strong bones include:
- Brisk walking, jogging, and hiking.
- Yard work such as pushing a lawnmower and heavy gardening.
- Team sports, such as soccer, baseball, and basketball.
- Dancing, step aerobics, and stair climbing.
- Tennis and other racquet sports.
- Skiing, skating, karate, and bowling.
- Weight training with free weights or machines.
Cardiovascular exercise is equally important for kids, because it strengthens the heart and lungs, lowers blood pressure, improves muscle strength and flexibility, reduces stress and depression, helps control weight, and improves sleep. All of these become even more critical for children who are obese or heading in that direction.
But, preventing obesity won’t happen without a healthy diet. Kids need to develop healthy eating habits as early as possible, with an emphasis on a diet that supports bone health. Make sure your child consumes at least 1,300 mg of calcium every day.
Great sources of calcium include:
- Other green, leafy vegetables
Making sure your child gets the right amount of exercise and a healthy diet is a process. Start gradually with activities that your child enjoys. Find creative ways to present healthy foods. You may even find your entire family getting involved and changing your habits. Most of all have fun!
Aimee Brasher, M.D., is in pediatric orthopedic surgery at