How Can I Help My Child Be More Physically Active?

Close-up of a Child's feet playing hop scotch outdoors

Being physically active has many health benefits regardless of age. It’s especially important to help kids develop and grow into healthy adults. The American Heart Association recommends kids and teens (ages 6-17) get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

In today’s digital world, it can be hard to coax your kids to put down the devices and get moving. But with a little effort, you can help them learn healthy habits now and find activities they can love for a lifetime.

Why is it important for kids to be active?

As with adults, increased physical activity in kids is associated with longer life and decreased risk of many diseases and health problems. Some benefits may appeal to kids’ competitive nature and desire to do their best.

Active kids are more likely to have:

  • a healthy weight.
  • stronger, healthier bones and muscles.
  • better heart and brain health.
  • improved brain function, including memory, attention and problem-solving.
  • better school attendance and academic performance, especially in math, reading and writing.
  • lower long-term risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and some kinds of cancer.
  • less stress and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • less inappropriate and distracting classroom behavior.
  • improved mental health and psychological well-being, including confidence and self-esteem.

How do I encourage my child to be active?

Children are naturally active. As they grow into adolescents, they tend to become less active. This is especially true for girls, who may need even more support and encouragement to stay active. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if your kids’ interests change. Help them find other activities they can enjoy.

These tips may help:

  • Model an active lifestyle. Start moving more yourself and find ways to be active together as a family.

  • Physical activity should be fun for children and adolescents. Encourage kids to figure out activities they like and will stick with. Don’t use physical activity as a punishment.

  • Reduce or limit sedentary screen time, including watching television, playing video games and using a digital device. Don’t use the TV or a device as a babysitter.

  • Provide kids with opportunities to be active. Give them toys and games such as bikes, skateboards, roller skates, scooters, jump ropes and balls.

  • Support their participation in sports, dance and other active recreation such as swimming, biking and running. Get familiar with community facilities near you: pools, recreation centers, bike paths and parks.

  • When safe, let them walk or bicycle to places instead of always driving them. For example, you could walk or bike to school or the bus stop together.

  • If your child is very inactive now, start slowly. Increase the amount and intensity of activity gradually each week or so to avoid discomfort, injury or discouragement.

  • Praise, rewards and encouragement help kids to stay active.

What if my child is uncoordinated, disabled or overweight?

All children, even differently abled ones, need to be physically active. Activity may be particularly helpful for the physical and psychological well-being of children with a disability or weight problem. Ask your child’s pediatric health care team for advice on physical activities, and support your child in being as active as possible. Celebrate achievements and successes.

What’s the takeaway?

We all benefit from moving more and sitting less. How can you add easy and fun ways to move more into your family’s daily routine?

Learn more about the American Heart Association’s physical activity recommendations for kids and adults.

Want to help all kids have more opportunities for physical activity? Learn how to advocate in your community by signing up for Voices for Healthy Kids.