The American Heart Association recommends children get one hour of physical activity per day to help avoid problems such as obesity and juvenile diabetes and the emotional problems that come with poor health. Exercise routines can be boring or fun, depending on whether or not kids have goals and see measurable results. Adding charts to graph a child’s fitness gains and setting goals that earn rewards can help motivate kids to get physically fit. Any exercise routine you develop should include a warm-up, the actual exercise, a cooldown and a stretch.
Make exercise fun, not work
Include a Fun, Dynamic Warmup
A warmup should get blood flowing to the muscles and elevate the heart, beginning with low-intensity movements like jumping jacks, running in place, skipping and arm swings. Take about three to four minutes each time you exercise to warm up. Don’t static stretch, or hold stretches for 30 seconds, before exercise, or you’ll de-sensitize muscles for about 15 minutes or so. Save this type of stretching for after workouts.
Moderately Intense Workout
Depending on the level of intensity you use during your workout, your exercise will have different benefits. Moderate-intensity exercise will burn fewer calories, but more fat. Brisk walking (for example, about 2.5 to 3 mph on a treadmill) will help a child start to build cardio stamina and muscular endurance so she can exercise longer and harder later. A moderately intense kids workout might be performed at roughly 50 to 60 percent of their maximum heart rate.
Power walking would be an example of moderate-intensity exercise. You can try circuit training, doing one exercise, such as jumping jacks or running stairs, for one to two minutes, taking a 30-second break, then starting another. Riding a bike, rollerblading, swimming with a kickboard are other fun ways to create moderately intense kids workouts.
Vigorously Intense Workouts
Vigorously intense activity is what you think of when you envision an exercise class. Traditional aerobic workouts take place approximately between 70 and 80 percent of your heart rate. Your child should be breathing hard and starting to sweat, but still able to talk during the workout session. Try to find the maximum intensity she can maintain without stopping every few minutes — this means she’s not working too hard. Vigorously intense exercise would include jogging or jumping rope for 20 to 30 minutes with only one or two breaks. Dancing can also be aerobic if done at the right intensity for the right amount of time. Make sure to include several slow-down periods to allow the heart to rest and recover.
Feel free to include the family dog when skating, jogging or cycling to make it more fun for kids.
Instead of a vigorously intense aerobic workout, try an anaerobic workout using your child’s favorite sport. Tennis, volleyball, racquetball, soccer and basketball are good examples. Playing half-court basketball or one-goal soccer, or playing mini-tennis with low-compression balls keeps balls going longer, providing more exercise.
High-intensity activity (on-and-off sprint training) burns the most calories, but may be too difficult for your child if he’s not in great shape. High-intensity exercise is done close to your maximum heart rate, and can only be done for short periods of time.
Add some muscle building at least twice a week. A strength-training routine could include the use of light weights like dumbbells or resistance bands. Keep track of the amount of weight the child is comfortable using during the first workout, as well as the number of repetitions she can perform, so she can chart her progress. Kids can also build muscle without weights, using bodyweight exercises. A body-weight routine could include pushups, situps or crunches, pullups and chinups, lunges and squats.
Don’t Forget the Cooldown
Don’t jump off a treadmill then onto the couch with no physical cool-down. Make sure to gradually lower your heart rate after a workout by performing the warm-up exercises at a low intensity, for three to four minutes.
Now you can Stre-e-e-e-e-e-tch!
Make sure to finish with a stretch after any intense or prolonged exercise. This will prevent stiffness and soreness later, and improve flexibility. Stretch by slowly moving muscles slightly past their range of comfortable motion, then hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Keep Track of Workouts & Results
Using charts to track times, number of repetitions, weights lifted or machine resistance levels lets kids see how their work is contributing to their progress. Inexpensive heart rate monitors lets kids track their intensity during workouts, and lets them see how many calories they’ve burned.
Where to buy heart rate monitors.