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Exercise and children

Alternative Names

Children and exercise


Children should have many chances to run, bike, and play sports during the day. Experts recommend that children get 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day.

Moderate activity means you breathe harder and your heart beats faster than normal. Some examples are:

  • Walking fast
  • Playing chase or tag
  • Swimming
  • Playing organized sports (such as soccer, basketball, and football)

Younger children have a shorter attention span than older children. They may be active for only 10 - 15 minutes at a time. The goal is still a total of 60 minutes of activity every day.


Children who exercise:

  • Feel better about themselves
  • Are more physically fit
  • Have more energy

Other benefits of exercise are:

  • A lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
  • Healthy bone and muscle growth
  • Staying at a healthy weight


Not all children are the same. Some kids are very athletic and love getting outside and being active. Others would rather stay inside and play video games or watch TV.

If your child is not athletic, find ways to motivate your child to be more active.

These ideas may help non-athletic children become active:

  • Let them know it will give them more energy, make their body stronger, and make them feel good about themselves.
  • Encourage them to be active, so they know they can do it.
  • Be their role model. If you are not active yourself, start getting more active.
    • Make walking a part of your family's daily routine. All you need are good walking shoes and rain jackets for wet days. Don't let rain stop you.
    • Go for walks together after dinner, before turning on the TV or playing computer games.
  • Take your family to community centers or parks where there are playgrounds, ball fields, basketball courts, and walking paths. It's easier to be active when the people around you are active.


It is important to find an activity that excites your child. Some children like to do individual activities, such as swimming, running, skiing, or biking. Others prefer group sports, like soccer, football, or basketball.

Choose an exercise that works well for your child's age. For example, a 6-year-old may play outside with other kids, and a 16-year-old may run at a track.

Organized sports and daily activities are good ways for your child to get exercise. Daily activities can use as much, or more energy than some organized sports.

Some great daily activities are:

  • Walking or biking to school
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Riding a bike with family or friends
  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Playing outside (such as shooting a basketball or kicking or throwing a ball around)
  • Playing in the water (at a local pool, in a water sprinkler, or splashing in puddles)
  • Dancing to music
  • Skating (ice skating, skateboarding, or roller skating)
  • Doing household chores (sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming floors, loading the dishwasher)
  • Taking a family walk or hike
  • Playing computer games that make you move your whole body, instead of ones that make you move only your fingers
  • Raking leaves (and then jumping in the piles before bagging them up)
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Weeding


Feigelman S. Middle childhood. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 11.

US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Recommendation statement . 2008. Accessed March 20, 2011.

Updated: 3/20/2011

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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