The Physician and Sportsmedicine
Menubar Home Journal Personal Health Resource Center CME Advertiser Services About Us

[Exercise is Medicine]

[Patient Adviser]

Exercise: Kids Go for It

Theodore Ganley, MD, with Carl Sherman

Exercise Is Medicine series editor: Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD.


Exercise is good for everybody. For kids, it pays double: increasing vitality today while building the foundation for a healthy tomorrow. Active youngsters are stronger, leaner, and more fit. They have extra energy and feel better about themselves. They get a head start on lifestyle habits that will protect against heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

There's no better investment in your child's present and future health than promoting safe, regular exercise.

Q. What exercise is best?

A. Children and adolescents, like adults, should participate in vigorous physical activity on a regular basis—at least a half hour, three or four times a week.

The best kind of exercise is one your child will do regularly. Help him or her find activities that are fun and rewarding. Baseball, walking, soccer, jumping rope—anything's OK if it's enjoyable and done safely.

Preaching or pushing kids into activities they don't like is likely to backfire. Youngsters who learn that exercise is a chore all too often become inactive adults.

Remember, too, that exercise needn't be organized. Encourage your child to take the active option in daily life: Walk instead of ride, take the stairs, not the elevator, develop an interest in hands-on activities like building a snowman. Short bursts of activity add up.

Q. What about safety?

A. Minor mishaps such as bruises and sprains are a fact of life for on-the-go youngsters, but simple precautions will minimize the risk of serious injury.

  • Make sure your kids' activities are right for their age, size, and physical development. Highly competitive distance running may be great for a high schooler but too stressful—and not much fun—for an 8-year-old. Contact sports can pose unnecessary dangers for smaller kids. When in doubt, check with your doctor.
  • Keep team spirit healthy. Competition is fine—if it isn't overdone. Coaches and parents with a "winning-is-everything" attitude encourage kids to push too hard and to play when injured. Talk it over with the people who run your child's school or league team.
  • Ensure the use of proper protective equipment for each sport or activity, including helmets for bikers.
  • Seek medical advice if your child is limping after exercise, or if muscle soreness lasts throughout the day or night. A child sidelined by an injury shouldn't get back into action until he or she is pain-free.

Q. Is it good to get the whole family involved?

A. Kids learn by example: When a father gets involved with his child's activity, the child is three times more active than children with inactive parents. Why not foster fitness together? Make long walks, cycling, and active vacations a family tradition.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. Before starting an exercise program, consult a physician.

Dr Ganley is orthopedic director of sports medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Mr Sherman is a freelance writer in New York City.