Are Your Kids as Active as You Think They Are?

Only 25 percent of kids get enough daily activity. Here's why.

Active kids - skateboarding
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What's enough physical activity to call your kids active? The standard recommendation is at least 60 minutes a day for school-age kids and teens, and two hours for preschoolers. That doesn't sound like a lot, especially when you know that those 60 or 120 minutes don't have to be consecutive, and kids are awake for 12 hours or more. But 75 percent of kids ages 6 to 15 don't get that daily hour. Three out of four!

Could yours be among that number? Check yourself against these myths about kids and physical activity to see.

Myth 1: Kids Are Active at School

Between recess and physical education, don't kids get plenty of active play time at school? Probably not, even though recess, gym class, and brain breaks can improve kids' health and behavior. The Society of Health and Physical Educators suggests that elementary schools schedule at least 150 minutes of PE every week (or 30 minutes a day), plus at least one 20-minute recess period.

If your child is actually getting that, plus playing for another 10 minutes before or after school, he could be meeting his daily activity needs. But it's pretty unlikely that he is. Very few states require these minimum amounts of daily exercise. And even if your kid does get sufficient recess time, he may not be using it to play actively. 

Myth 2: If They're Not Overweight, Kids Are Active Enough

Every child needs daily physical activity, whether her weight is at, above, or below average. While exercise can help kids lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it offers many other benefits unrelated to the number on the scale.

Physical activity can boost children's mental health and lower their blood pressure. It builds and strengthens bones, joints, and muscles. It promotes social development and good behavior too. So kids who are at a healthy weight don't get a pass. They still need their 60+ minutes!

Myth 3: A Little TV Is No Big Deal

Okay, this one's a little bit true—a little TV (or other screen time) doesn't hurt. But too often, a little becomes a lot, and starts to interfere with active play. If your child really has been playing hard all day, then sure: Let her cuddle up on the couch with a tablet. But if she's been busy with a screen for more than an hour or two, share some active together-time instead. 

Myth 4: Kids Need Sports to Be Active

Active doesn't have to mean athletic, either in skill or in interest. If your child doesn't like organized sports, that's okay. It just means he needs a different way to be active.

How about hiking, skateboarding, biking, dance, or playground games like tag? Maybe yoga or martial arts? There are lots of ways for kids and teens to be active without playing sports. But they might need your help to connect with a fitness activity they'll enjoy.

Also, even if your kids are sporty, they may still need supplemental activities and play to get enough exercise. Not every sports practice provides the full amount of daily exercise kids need.

Myth 5: Active Play Isn't Always Possible

All families face obstacles to active play: weather, time, money, access to safe environments, illness and injury. Still, there are usually steps you can take: If you can't play at home, go on an active outing to a playground, hiking trail, or beach. If you don't have the cold-weather or rain gear you need to play outside, be active indoors. If your budget is stretched, use these inexpensive household items and toys. You can even help your child play actively with a broken bone, or all by herself if no playmates are available.

The same goes for active transport—getting to your destination on your own power, whether that means on foot, bike, scooter, or in-line skates. Yes, it's easier to get where you're going if you just belt everyone into the car. But active transport (aka active commuting) is a simple way to add extra physical activity to your child's day (and your own).

Most of the trips we make in our cars are short ones that we can reconsider. If it's cold, bundle up. If it's wet, wear boots and bring an umbrella. If you have stuff to carry, consider bike baskets, a trailer, or a wagon.

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