Does your child benefit from exercise?

Don’t sign your child up for that long dash yet. Recent studies claim that it could do more harm than good.

Does your child benefit from exercise?

We are familiar with the effects of childhood obesity. These range from bullying in the classroom, to low self esteem and excess weight that could remain throughout life as an adult.

Add all that to an increased risk of fatality from heart disease and stroke in the middle age, as suggested by a recent study, and you may be reaching for that skipping rope.

Before putting your children through the motions to tone up and burn calories, remember that their bodies are less developed than ours. Overexerting – putting muscles under excessive strain – can be harder for children to recover from.

At the very least, an unpleasant experience could put them off regular exercise in their teenage years, resulting in detrimental health effects. Pushing your child over the limit could even result in a sports injury.

The figures cited by author and sports journalist Mark Hyman in Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids are startling.

“Every year more than 3.5 million children under 15 require medical treatment for sports injuries, nearly half of which are the result of simple overuse,” a line from the book reads.

Here is the age appropriate exercise your child needs:

Child aged 2 to 5

According to National Health Service (NHS) guidelines, a child under the age of five who can walk unassisted should have at least 180 minutes of physical activity every day.

This could be anything from jumping, to riding a tricycle or just rolling around and playing. Gently toss a light ball back and forth, and you are on your way to starting a toddler game of catch!

Parents should bear in mind that children of this age range have a short attention span. So don’t overthink it by signing them up for a string of classes, unless they have proven to be engaging.

Instead, test the waters by settling aside blocks of time for structured physical activity. You’ll soon find out the ideal duration of exercise for your child.

“Young humans have an innate desire to climb, run, jump and move,” said Professor Craig Williams, director of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre at the University of Exeter.

“Encouraging and allowing them to do that is the best step you can take to steer them towards lifelong fitness,” he told the Daily Mail.

Child aged 6 to 8

Children above the age of five should do at least an hour of aerobic exercise, also known as cardio every day, NHS guidelines show. This should be of moderate to vigorous intensity.

The possibilities are endless: they could dance, swim or play football. Playing hopscotch is a fun way to strengthen muscles and bones. Another option is signing up for yoga, which experts say help to reduce stress and improve motor skills.

Enjoyment is crucial; parents can contribute to a positive perception of exercise by simply letting their child decide on the activity.

That said, steer clear of activities like long distance running, as it may put too much pressure on their young joints at this stage.

Does your child benefit from exercise?

Child aged 8 to 12

Your child should be attending regular physical education classes at school. These classes will help him or her work on strength, coordination and stamina.

A study in the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that resistance training can help children build muscle strength from this young age. Another study found that medical attention needed by young marathoners from seven to 17 years of age was not significantly different from adult runners on race day. Still, monitor your child closely should he or she engage in weightlifting or long distance running.

If your child joins a sports team, the frequency of exercise is likely to increase! In this case, it is important to get enough sleep, nutrients and a break from the sport lasting one to two days every week.

Listen and react accordingly, to the extent of seeking professional help, if your child has any complaints about fatigue or overexertion.

What exercises are good for children under the age of 12? Share them with us at

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