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Fitness for Kids—It’s Not Always About a Structured Workout

In the middle of a pandemic—when swim team, rec sports and many summer camps have been canceled—it can sometimes feel as if you’ve lost every opportunity to get the kids off the sofa and outside where they can get the physical activity their young bodies need.

There are plenty of fun ways for kids to exercise this summer, and most of them can be done right in your backyard or at a local park with minimal equipment and some creativity. And as a bonus, if you decide to undertake some of these endeavors as a family, even the adults can discover a newfound love of working out.

Kids NEED Exercise
The thing is, children and teenagers are growing, and their bodies have to move if they’re going to develop the way that they should. The younger they are, the less structured the activity can be, focusing instead on variety and development of specific physical skills. As kids get older, they can start to undertake more formal workouts like jogging or weightlifting.

The Physical Guidelines for Americans put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourages preschool children (ages 3 to 5) to be physically active throughout the day simply by playing—running around, jumping/skipping, dancing, swimming, and so forth. Children ages 6 to 17 should get a minimum of one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, including a mix of:

  • Aerobic activity three days a week, such as running or bicycling.
  • Muscle strengthening activities three days a week, such as swinging from monkey bars or doing pushups.
  • Bone strengthening activity three days a week, such as jumping jacks or running.

Summer Strong: Your Season of Physical Activity
The best approach that you can take as a parent when it comes to exercise is to emphasize that physical activity is fun—demonstrate to your kids that you enjoy it yourself, and never use it as a punishment.

crab walkAnd while you should always encourage your kids to try their best at any activity and never give up just because it’s hard, the truth is there are some exercises that just won’t appeal to them. Instead of forcing these exercises, let your children find another activity that offers the same benefits that they enjoy more.

Here are just a few ideas that will have your whole family up and moving throughout the summer:
When kids are in elementary school (approximately ages 5–10), they’ll still be mastering plenty of skills simply by participating in active play. Jumping rope, swinging, playing on a jungle gym, climbing trees, bouncing on a trampoline and riding their bikes are all activities they can do around the neighborhood.

By the time they reach middle school (approximately ages 11–13), children can be more independent and will be challenging themselves to do some of the same activities faster or for longer periods of time. They’re now at an age where they can walk or ride their bikes when they want to go somewhere (provided there is safe access with sidewalks and crosswalks). They’ll also be more apt to challenge themselves: Instead of swinging from monkey bars, for example, they will do chin-ups or pull-ups.

Teens in high school (approximately ages 14–17) will start to show an interest in structured workouts, especially if they want to get better at a sport they play. They can go out jogging or cycling, or start a weightlifting routine. Remember to keep their competitive nature in check so they don’t risk injury to themselves by pushing too hard, and encourage them to be supportive of their peers instead of putting others down.

Don’t Underestimate Field Games
Kids of all ages love organized games like kickball, dodgeball, flag football, SPUD, capture the flag or tug of war. If they have access to a pool or a natural body of water with a designated swimming area, they can even play sharks and minnows.

The great thing about these activities is they’ll provide an appropriate challenge as long as the kids are competing against their peers. These games incorporate a variety of movements and skills, including running, throwing, crawling and jumping, and if played in rotation throughout the week, they will give players a chance to work all their major muscle groups.

If your kids would prefer to race, you can set up an obstacle course in your backyard or at the local park. Aim to create a variety of physical challenges using cones, chairs, benches, and spaces marked off with sidewalk chalk. If you want to make it less complicated, simply mark out a start line and a finish line and come up with different challenging ways of racing—the first race can be a simple sprint, but subsequent times could be done via crawling, hopping on one foot, running backward, cartwheeling or crab walking.

7minkids1There’s an App for That

Sure, you’re trying to get the kids disconnected from electronics, but apps can actually be very helpful in guiding them through their workouts. If that idea sounds appealing, here are a few recommendations:

7-Min Workout for Kids
Consider this one for rainy days when the kids are watching more TV than usual. In the same amount of time as a commercial break, this app will walk kids through a high-intensity interval of exercise focused on strength, stamina and flexibility, all using only their bodyweight.

Sworkit Kids
With this app, all you have to do is simply choose the goal of your workout (such as improving strength, agility, flexibility, balance, etc.) and the length (anywhere from five to 60 minutes). Once you hit start, your kids are guided through the workout via demonstrations by peers their own age who show them how to do such moves as jumping jacks, bear crawls and stretches.

Do your kids need a reason to get up and walk around? MotionMaze could be the adventure they’re waiting for. The app provides a map based on their actual surroundings in the real world and designates places where treasure is hidden, challenging users to walk around to find the virtual bounty.

—Dylan Roche

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