Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Fitness in Children From School Age Up

Category: Child Care


The AAP has several recommendations to help increase the fitness of our nation's children. Once kids are school age they can be introduced to more formal fitness programs and taught about physical fitness, mental health and cardiovascular health. School boards can be encouraged to provide physical education classes starting from kindergarten. In situations where this is impossible and the kids are not provided with enough physical activity at school, it is up to the parents to get the kids active in and around their homes.

Around age 6 is a good time to encourage swimming lessons. Television is probably the biggest robber of physical activity for children before and during school age and must be controlled and monitored by parents particularly at these ages.

Around age 6 to 8, almost all children are attracted to community and youth sports. Up to 75% of children in this age group usually participate. This drops to below 20% by the time they reach high school. For each individual child it is important that the parents know whether their child is ready to participate in team sports socially, physically and maturationally at their present level. Pick programs and coaches whose primary interest is for the children to have fun engaging in the sport and not programs that are high pressured and potentially damaging to young children.

At all ages, children need supervision and guidance particularly in bicycling and skate boarding, rollerblading etc. so that they wear proper safety equipment.

For adolescents in particular, it is important that schools teach the important benefits of exercise and fitness. Everything should be discussed including weight control, proper food intake, and strength and endurance training. Emphasis on safety and dangers of risk-taking, particularly with motor bikes and all-terrain vehicles, must be addressed. For adolescents who do not take part in organized sports, parents should encourage them to at least exercise regularly in some sport or game to help maintain fitness. Children should be taught which sports help most to contribute to overall physical fitness such as walking, bicycling, swimming and racquet sports.

Throughout our children's lives we can help them to be healthy and physically fit. First, we should set a good example ourselves in our own lifestyle. Second, we can actively participate with them in sports from infancy to adulthood. Finally, we should encourage them to have fun and simply enjoy sports' participation.