By Chuck Corbin, Arizona State University
Exercise is good for kids. Most of us are now aware that participation in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity is beneficial to fitness, health, and wellness. But physical activity for kids has not always been recommended. As recently as the 1950s, child development texts cautioned that children should be limited in vigorous activity because of possible harm to the heart. Now national physical activity guidelines recommend that youth engage in vigorous physical activity a minimum of three times a week. Prior to the turn of the century, many experts cautioned that resistance exercise was inappropriate for children and teens. Now we know that properly performed progressive resistance exercise can have many benefits for youth.
Prior to the publication of the Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health in 1996, the focus for adults was on elevating heart rate. No recommendation was made for youth, but most educators used adult guidelines when planning activity programs for kids. The recommend activity for adults changed with the publication of the surgeon general’s report. Specifically, adults were to perform a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity daily. In 1998 the first physical activity guidelines specifically designed for children (Physical Activity for Children: A Statement of Guidelines) were published by NASPE. They recommended that children participate in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. The authors (Corbin & Pangrazi) provided evidence to support the need for both moderate and vigorous activity and noted differences in needs and interests of youth compared to adults.
In 2008 the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were published by the federal government. This document included physical activity guidelines for youth as well as for adults and older adults. The specific recommendations for youth included in the guidelines were similar those in the 1998 NASPE report but expanded upon them. In 2018, the second edition of the guidelines (https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/meetings/5/11-PAGAC-Day-4-Presentation.pdf) was published. The latest guidelines for youth are as follows:
- Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.
- Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous- intensity aerobic physical activity, and vigorous-intensity physical activity should be included on at least three days a week.
- As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least three days a week.
- As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least three days a week.
Fears about youth activity have largely been dispelled, and current guidelines recommend considerable amounts of physical activity for youth. The national activity guidelines note the “substantial benefits” of participation in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week. These benefits include lower risk of all causes of death, reduced risk of chronic disease, improved fitness and functional capacity, weight management benefits, and better brain and bone health. Both youth and adults enjoy these benefits.
The recent physical activity guidelines provide considerable evidence for supporting physical education programs in schools. In addition to meeting students’ current needs for physical activity, PE programs can also promote lifelong physical activity, thus offering students health and wellness not just when they are in school but throughout life.
Chuck practices what he preaches. After 45 years of teaching, researching, writing, and promoting regular healthy lifestyles, he walks, plays golf, does his own yard work, and does regular core and muscle fitness exercises. He enjoys playing his guitar as well as traveling with his wife of 56 years and being with his four granddaughters. Learn more about the books written by Chuck, including Fitness for Life and Health for Life resources.