Physical activity-ages 5 to 12

These short activities and engaging mini-lessons are a great way for families to learn about the importance of getting physical activity each and every day.

Kids and physical activity

Kids and exercise

Girls holding hands and running together outside

For kids, exercise can look different than it does for adults. Things like playing, recess, gym class, sports practice or recreational classes all count as exercise for kids.

It's important to remember that when it comes to kids, building healthy habits early on is important.

Small changes at home can have an impact on physical activity. Making equipment available and accessible helps encourage kids to use it. Even things like taking the stairs instead of an escalator and getting in extra steps by parking further away can have an impact on kids.

The biggest influence is parents!

Benefits of physical activity

Stronger muscles and bones are some of the benefits of physical activity for kids. Leaner body mass, healthier blood pressure and overall cholesterol are also benefits of doing physical activity or exercising.

With regular exercise, general mood and outlook on life can be improved as well.

Elements of fitness

There are three elements of fitness: endurance, strength, and flexibility.

  • Endurance involves regular aerobic activity, which means that the heart is beating at a fast rate and breathing speeds up as well. Aerobic activity leads to a stronger heart.
  • Strength can involve weighted objects or bands, but it doesn't have to since a person's body weight can be enough to improve strength. Body weight exercises include things like doing crunches and pushups to improve muscle strength.
  • Flexibility involves stretching exercises. It helps muscles and joints to bend and move more easily through the range of motion.

The importance of stretching and balance for kids

Kids are generally flexible, but stretching is very important to help prevent injuries, improve athletic performance and encourage a healthier lifestyle.

Stretching helps to prevent tears or pulled muscles and it can also help keep a child's joints healthy. It's important to warm up before stretching so muscles aren't cold and are more pliable. After a workout, stretching can help speed the recovery of muscles and help to avoid tightness.

Working on balance helps with many everyday activities and can help prevent falls, which is one of the most common causes of injuries for kids.

Balance is used during static, or still, and dynamic, or moving, activities. Having good balance can help with the development of coordination.

Recommended amounts of physical activity

Kids over the age of 6 should get at least 1 hour of physical activity each day. Most of this activity should be aerobic activity and activities that strengthen bones and muscles should be done at least three days out of the week.

Encouraging a variety of exercise

Kids over the age of 6 should get at least 1 hour of physical activity each day. Most of this activity should be aerobic activity and activities that strengthen bones and muscles should be done at least three days out of the week.

Motivating kids to be active

There are three main ways to help encourage kids to be active:

  • Pick activities that are right for the child's age and development level. If something is too easy, kids may get bored or they may become frustrated if the activity is too difficult.
  • Give them a lot of opportunities to be active. Make it easy for kids to be physically active by taking them to playgrounds or parks.
  • Keep things fun. If kids aren't enjoying what they're doing, they will lose interest and they won't do it for long.

Family activities

Doing activities as a family

Trying new things as a family can be a great way to spend time together while being active. Going to a new park and hiking, trying a new sport like snowshoeing, or even just going to the batting cages together can help kids try new things.

Winter activity recommendations

Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowboarding, snowshoeing and ice skating are all great outdoor activities to do in winter.

Safety during winter activities looks a bit different than it does when it's warm out, but there are some similarities. Layers to stay warm are important so kids can add or remove layers as temperatures change. Hats and gloves are important too!

Helmets should be worn for skiing and snowboarding and may be considered for sledding or skating. Sunscreen and sunglasses should also be used in winter, as the snow reflects sun and you can still get sunburn.

Indoor activities for colder months

Things like bowling, roller skating, rock climbing, laser tag, and indoor swimming are all good ways to help get kids active when the weather isn't great.

Indoor activities you can do at home

At home, you can do things like set up obstacle courses, have indoor relay races or dance parties and you can set up your own contests or activity stations.

Play balloon volleyball by using painter's tape to create a net in a hallway. Use a balloon and see how many times you can volley the balloon over the net.

Create an indoor obstacle course by making a path through the house. Complete the circuit in a certain number of times and see how fast the kids can complete it.

Obstacles might include:

  • Army crawl under the table or make it into a tunnel by adding a blanket or sheet
  • Zigzag through chairs
  • Climb over a mountain of pillows
  • Log roll across the living room
  • Run stairs

Alternatives to playing sports

Organized sports or teams aren't the only way for kids to stay physically active. Things like hiking, playing on a playground or going for a bike ride all help kids stay healthy. Even turning on some music and dancing around the house counts as physical activity!

Kids and sports

The importance of warming up and cooling down

Warm up for 5 – 10 minutes to prepare for physical activity. Warming up is important to prepare physically and mentally for physical activity.

Warming up helps to:

  • Increase heart rate
  • Boost nutrients and oxygen getting to muscles
  • Prepare the body for a workout

Stretching is an important part of warming up.

  • Dynamic stretching is best for warming up whereas static stretching is better for cooling down.

Cooling down for 5-10 minutes will help your body recover from a workout. Light aerobic activity and stretching are good ways to cool down. Cooling down helps to:

  • Slow down heart rate
  • Return breathing to normal
  • Decrease soreness
  • Relax the muscles

How to help prevent sport injuries

Kids younger than eight are less coordinated and react slower than adults, which makes them more susceptible to injuries when playing sports. As kids grow, the chance of an injury increases due to an increase in force.

Using the right equipment is important. Things like helmets, proper shoes, mouth guards and eye protection can help kids stay safe.

Safe surfaces can help prevent injuries. Fields can have hidden holes or ruts, so checking before playing can be helpful. Concrete surfaces for sports that involve running can increase the amount of impact, so try and do these activities on wooden or rubber surfaces.

Warming up and proper stretching can help prevent muscle injuries during sports.

When to start strength training

Strength training (using machines, lifting weights, resistance bands or body weight exercises) can be safe for kids, but there are a few rules to follow:

  • Make sure the child is old enough.
  • Check with a doctor first.
  • Set limits on the amount of strength training.
  • Have a trained adult supervise the workouts to make sure they're doing exercises correctly.

The impact of nutrition for kids and sports

Kids who are involved in sports will probably need to eat more food, since they burn more calories. Dieting, even for athletes, is typically not healthy for kids.

Iron and calcium are especially important for athletes– calcium for strong bones and iron to keep their energy up.

Don't forget to have them hydrate before, during and after exercise.

Physical activity resources