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Ask an Expert - Physical Activity

How much physical activity do children need?
How much physical activity do children need?
How Much Physical Activity do Children Need?

Donna Terbizan, Ph.D., Professor Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

Physical activities that are encouraged for young people should be appropriate for their age, enjoyable and offer

According to the Guidelines for Americans published in 2008, the following are considered key guidelines for children (ages 3 to 11) and adolescents (ages 12 to 17): Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity (PA) daily. This should include:

  • Aerobic activity – done at a moderate or vigorous intensity level for a majority of the 60 minutes daily. Vigorous intensity PA should be done on at least three days per week.
  • Muscle strengthening – done at least three days per week as part of the daily 60 minutes of PA
  • Bone strengthening – done at least three days per week as part of the daily 60 minutes of PA

Aerobic activity includes walking, running, swimming, playing tag and biking. Muscle-strengthening activities include resistance (weight) training, push-ups, pull-ups, climbing trees and lifting objects that weigh more than youth usually lift. Bone-strengthening activities are those that are weight bearing, so most sports or activities that have students up and moving are included.

Youth achieve many benefits through performing these activities. While they specifically improve cardiorespiratory fitness, strengthen muscles and bones, and help the child attain/maintain a healthy weight, these activities also help reduce the likelihood of developing risk factors for later diseases (high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes). And, most research suggests that the total amount of physical activity is more important than any one component in helping youth gain these health benefits.

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