Being physically active has many health benefits no matter what age you are. It’s especially important to help kids develop and grow into healthy adults. The American Heart Association recommends that kids and teens (ages 6-17) get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

In today’s digital world, it can be hard to get your kids to put down the devices and do something active. But with a little effort, we can help them learn healthy habits now and find activities they can love for a lifetime.

Why is it important for kids to be active?

Just like in adults, increased physical activity is associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of many diseases and health problems. In other words, a longer and healthier life! There are also some benefits that may appeal to kids’ competitive nature and desire to do their best.

Active kids are more likely to have:

  • a healthy weight
  • stronger, healthier bones and muscles
  • better heart and brain health
  • improved brain function, including memory, attention and problem-solving
  • better school attendance and academic performance, especially in math, reading and writing
  •  lower long-term risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some kinds of cancer
  • less stress and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • less inappropriate and distracting classroom behavior
  • improved mental health and psychological well-being, including confidence and self-esteem

How do I encourage my child to be active?

Children are naturally active. As they grow into adolescents, they tend to become less active. This is especially true for girls, who may need even more support and encouragement to stay active. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if your kids’ interests shift or they lose interest in activities they used to love. Help them find other activities they can enjoy instead of becoming inactive.

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Be a role model for an active lifestyle. Start moving more yourself and find ways to be active together as a family.
  • Physical activity should be fun for children and adolescents. Encourage kids to keep trying activities to discover the ones they like and will stick with. Don’t use physical activity as a punishment.
  • Reduce or limit sedentary screen time, including watching television, playing video games and using a digital device. Don’t use the TV or a device as a babysitter.
  • Provide kids with opportunities to be active. Give them active toys and games, like bikes, skateboards, roller skates, scooters, jump ropes, balls and sports equipment.
  • Support their participation in sports, dance and other active recreation like swimming, biking and running. Get familiar with community facilities near you, like pools, recreation centers, bike paths and parks.
  • When safe, let them walk or bike places instead of always driving them in the car. For example, you could walk or bike to school or the bus stop together.
  • If your child is very inactive now, start slowly. Increase the amount and intensity of activity gradually each week or so. This may help them avoid discomfort or injury and adjust to a more active lifestyle without becoming discouraged.
  • Praise, rewards and encouragement help kids to stay active.

What if my child is uncoordinated, disabled or overweight?

All children, even differently-abled ones, need to be physically active. Activity may be particularly helpful for the physical and psychological well-being of children with a disability or weight problem. Support them in being as active as possible. Avoid comparing them to other children or shaming them if they’re not able to do as much. Celebrate their achievements and successes. Above all, keep it safe, and keep it fun!

What’s the takeaway?

We all benefit from moving more and sitting less. How can you add easy and fun ways to move more into your family’s daily routine?

Learn more about the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations for kids and adults.

Want to help all kids have more opportunities for physical activity? Learn how to advocate in your community by signing up for Voices for Healthy Kids.

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