Coaching

How Much Exercise Kids Really Need

By Nike Training

How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need

Help your kids grow up healthy and strong by using these targets as a guide.

From toddlers to teenagers, the ideal amount of activity for your kids will grow as they do. But how much movement is enough? In this article we asked industry experts just how much activity our kids should be aiming for in each age bracket, and what parents can do to help them get there.

There’s a reason—OK, tons of reasons—why exercise is built into school programming, either in the form of classroom activities, recess, or gym (aka “PE”). Research suggests that regular physical activity throughout childhood promotes better heart, bone, muscle, and brain development and health, is associated with improved cognition and academic performance, and can help increase confidence and self-esteem.

Leaving your kiddo’s fitness to the pros is one thing. Playing their PE teacher is another. If you’re wondering exactly how much exercise your kid really needs, and what kind is best based on their age, consider this article, full of tips from leading experts and organizations, as your activity-planning guide. (P.S. These guidelines are for the average child in the U.S.—recommendations vary slightly by country, and you should always consult your pediatrician on any questions or concerns.)

Toddlers (2- to 3-Year-Olds)

Once your child can walk, they want to be on the go constantly. This is the time to help them develop body-spatial awareness, fundamental motor skills (such as running, jumping, and catching), coordination, problem-solving and creative-thinking skills, and imagination, says Sarah Moore, PhD, a faculty member in the Department of Therapeutic Recreation at Douglas College, who studies the impact of physical activity for children.

“Any kind of movement—playing, walking, crawling on the couch—counts”

Sarah Moore, PhD, Dept. of Therapeutic Recreation at Douglas College

  1. Time Rec
    At least 180 minutes of physical activity at various intensities spread throughout the day is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Shape America, run by the Society of Health and Physical Educators, recommends at least 90 minutes. That may seem like a lot of activity for such a small child, but because any kind of movement—playing, walking, crawling on the couch counts, they typically rack it up easily.
  2. Activity Rec
    While experts don’t recommend actual conventional training for toddlers, they do advise that some of that time (30 minutes or more) should be dedicated to structured activity, such as a jungle-gym-like obstacle course or a game of tag (with natural rest breaks). The rest can be in the form unstructured activity, like general time in their playroom or putting away toys, and broken up in small bouts (think: four to six 10- to 15-minute blocks at random times). Ideally, toddlers will engage in quick-moving energetic play every day (this could be any activity that kicks up their heart rate), says Moore.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need

Preschoolers (4-Year-Olds)

All of the abilities kids start developing as toddlers carry over into their preschool years, but now that they’re talking and understanding more, you can (and should) use exercise to help them learn cooperation, strong social skills, a sense of routine, and rule-following, says Moore. Research also shows that regular physical activity during the preschool years specifically can support better motor development and help prevent child obesity.

  1. Time Rec
    At least 180 minutes of activity at differing intensities, both structured and unstructured, spread throughout the day, according to WHO and Shape America.
  2. Activity Rec
    Compared with their toddler years, preschoolers are physically capable of more advanced movement: They can run and hop with more control, and they have better balance and hand-eye coordination, says Moore. So to help them improve these skills, weave in dynamic activities that involve throwing and catching objects, standing on one leg, jumping and landing on both feet, and gymnastic-inspired rolling, she says. Dance (such as freeze dance), scavenger hunts, hide-and-seek, and relay races can get them not just moving but excited about doing so.

5- to 8-Year-Olds

At this age, kids have developed a decent amount of motor skills, coordination, and strength—enough that they should be able to run with proper form, hang from a bar for at least 10 seconds, jump rope, perform bodyweight exercises (like sit-ups), and ride a bike without training wheels. Consistent exercise can have a real impact on their physical health and fitness, Moore says, but this is also when activity goes beyond that. Now is the time when exercise can boost their sense of identity and self-esteem, research suggests.

  1. Time Rec
    At least an hour of daily physical activity at a moderate or vigorous intensity, in addition to several hours of lighter, unstructured movement, per WHO and Shape America. (So they’re still getting about 180 minutes total.)
  2. Activity Rec
    Games like Frisbee™ or hopscotch outside, and balloon volleyball inside, can kick your kid’s heart rate up to count as moderate to vigorous exercise. WHO also advises introducing light strength training to your kids—via bodyweight activities—three days a week or more. Teach them basic exercises from our Drill Essentials workout, or the Essential Flow Yoga workout for something lower-impact, both in the For the Whole Family Collection on NTC. Instead of a full workout, have them practice a few different moves for 10 to 15 minutes on, say, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Strength training will help build their major muscle groups, fortify their bones, and protect their joints from injuries, Moore says.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need
How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need

9- to 12-Year-Olds

Kids are always building on skills they learned earlier, but this is the age that many of those talents really start to click. As they enter the double-digits, children generally have refined neuromuscular coordination, which means they should have better accuracy for movements like kicking and throwing — ideal for organized sports, says Moore. This is the key time to increase their bone mass and strength via weight-bearing activities (adult-supervised, of course), she adds, as they’re not far off from puberty which naturally changes their bodies. Because kids at this age are impressionable and dealing with more on the social and emotional front, Moore says that now’s also your best chance to establish exercise as a source of confidence, a coping mechanism for stress, and an enjoyable lifelong habit.

“Establish exercise as a source of confidence, a coping mechanism for stress, and an enjoyable lifelong habit”

Sarah Moore, PhD, Dept. of Therapeutic Recreation at Douglas College

  1. Time Rec
    At least an hour of moderate or vigorous activity per day, along with two or more collective hours of easier bouts of movement, according to both WHO and Shape America.
  2. Activity Rec
    Running around the backyard, playing driveway basketball, or skipping down the block can add up to substantial heart-healthy cardio at home. But because kids at this age can understand and master legit exercises, go ahead and have them perform complete workouts with you or even follow a weeks-long fitness program that they enjoy, ideally three times a week. The Back It Down workout in our For the Whole Family collection will teach them how to move their body with control and engage their core, or challenge them with a new 15-minute workout from the Fast & Fun group of the collection each week.

At a Glance

Toddlers (2- to 3-Year-Olds)

Time: 90 to 180 total active minutes.
Focus: Spatial awareness, fundamental motor skills, coordination, and problem solving.
Activities: Jungle-gym obstacle course, general playroom time.

Preschoolers (4-Year-Olds)

Time: 180+ total active minutes.
Focus: Social skills, rule-following, hand-eye coordination, and balance.
Activities: Freeze dance, fun relay races, or throw-and-catch.

5- to 8-Year Olds

Time: 180+ total active minutes, including 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and some light bodyweight strength training (three days a week).
Focus: Motor skills, coordination, and strength.
Activities: Sports-like games, such as Frisbee™, hopscotch, or balloon volleyball, and NTC For the Whole Family workouts.

9- to 12-Year Olds

Time: 180+ total active minutes, including 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and some strength training (three days a week).
Focus: Neuromuscular coordination, sports skills (throwing, catching), confidence.
Activities: Driveway basketball, backyard softball, and NTC For the Whole Family Workouts.

Looking for more ways to keep them playing? Explore family workouts below or gear them up, get expert advice and more here.

How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need

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How Much Exercise Do Kids Really Need

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Access our world-class experts and trainers to help you stay active and healthy.

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