Fitness Basics for Youth

children swinging

We know that physical activity is good for us and our children. For children, being active regularly can help improve cardiorespiratory fitness, strengthen bones and muscles, keep them at a healthy weight, reduce anxiety, and reduce the risk of health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and obesity. Whether your children are already active or are just getting started with physical activity, there are some fitness basics to be mindful of.

How much physical activity should youths aim for?

Children and adolescents should try to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This activity should be moderate to vigorous. Moderate activity includes activities like brisk walking, hiking, dancing, and bicycling less than 10 miles per hour. When doing moderate exercise, you’ll breath faster, but you’re not out of breath; you can talk, but you can’t sing; and you’ll start sweating after about 10 minutes. Vigorous activity includes activities like running, swimming freestyle laps, aerobics, basketball, and bicycling more than 10 miles per hour. When doing vigorous exercise, your breathing is deep and quick, you can’t say more than a few words without taking a breath, and you’ll sweat after just a few minutes. Also, youths should include aerobic activity (e.g. walking, running, swimming, dancing, bicycling), muscle strengthening activities (e.g. gymnastics and push-ups), and bone strengthening activities (e.g. jump rope and running) every week.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Warming up helps prevent injuries when exercising. A warm up can just be a slower version of the moderate or vigorous activity your child does. For example, if your child is going to run, they can warm up by walking to help get their heart rate up slowly. Breathing will start to be deeper than when you’re at rest, but not as much as moderate or vigorous activity. After activity, have children cool down by stretching or walking slowly for about 5 minutes to let their heart rate come back to normal.

Hydration & Nutrition

Children should drink water before, during, and after exercise. This will help replace the water that children lose by sweating during physical activity. Drinking water is especially important when exercising outside in the heat to prevent heat illness. Also, children should eat a nutritious snack after they exercise, such as whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat yogurt with fruit.

Remember if your children are getting little to no activity, it’s okay to slowly work their way to 60 minutes of exercise daily. They don’t have to go right from 0 minutes to 60 minutes! Help them find activities they love to make them excited to play everyday! How can you be active with your children?



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Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)