Has your child set a physical activity goal for 2020? Many people think that kids just naturally get enough exercise. Unfortunately, this is not true. Only about 8% of children meet exercise recommendations. Not getting enough exercise can negatively impact a child’s sleep, school performance, and mood.


How Much Exercise Does My Child Need?

Children who are between six and 17 years old need at least 60 minutes per day or 420 minutes per week of physical activity. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. For example, your child can walk to school (15 minutes), play on the playground during recess (10 minutes), play soccer after school (30 minutes) and jump rope before dinner (5 minutes) to fulfill his “60 a day” activity goal.


Different types of activities support different parts of the body:

  • Exercise heart and lungs. Activities that make the heart beat faster exercise the heart and lungs include moderately intense activities like brisk walking, dancing, hiking, and skateboarding. More vigorous activities that make you breathe hard and sweat are basketball, soccer, running, and tennis. Bike riding can be moderate or vigorous in intensity, depending upon effort.
  • Strengthen muscles. Resistance activities include swinging on monkey bars, rope or tree climbing, and exercises such as push-ups or sit-ups.
  • Build bones. Weight bearing activities include hopping, skipping, jumping rope, running, gymnastics, and tennis.


Start a Conversation About Physical Activity With Your Child

Awareness is the first step in developing a “60 a day” activity target. How much exercise does your child do on a typical day? We asked an Austin mom to give us a brief summary of physical activity for her daughter Zooey, who is in 6th grade. Read this with your child as a conversation starter. Then ask your child to suggest activities that Zooey could add to get to her “60 a day” activity target. See the sidebar for ideas.


Read About Zoey’s Physical Activity

Before school. Mornings are busy! It is all we can do to get dressed, eat breakfast, pack lunch, and get in the car in time to make it before the bell rings. Exercise time per week = 0 minutes

During school. There are two recess periods per day and two PE classes per week at Zoey’s school. She likes to spend recess talking to her friends instead of going to the playground. We estimate she is actively exercising about 20 minutes during each PE class. Zooey takes the bus home and walks about 8 minutes from the bus stop to our house. Exercise time per week = 80 minutes.


After school. Zooey likes downtime after school so she usually lies on her bed and plays games or watches YouTube videos for a couple of hours to unwind. After that, she does her homework until time for dinner. Then it’s time for bath, pajamas, homework check, then bed. Exercise time per week = 15 minutes.

Weekends. Zooey enjoys hanging out with her friends on the weekends. She may take a 5-minute walk to her friend’s house and back a couple of times during the weekend. When Zooey is with her friends, they play video games and watch movies. Sometimes our family will go to the mall and walk around for about 30 minutes. I try to get Zooey to help with chores, but she complains so much that it’s just easier to do them myself. Exercise time per week = 50 minutes.


Ask Your Child to Help Zooey

In the above scenario, Zooey gets about 145 minutes of exercise per week—only 1/3 of the recommended amount. Ask your child to suggest activities that Zooey could add to achieve the “60 a day” activity target. See the sidebar for ideas.


Work with Your Child to Create a 2020 Physical Activity Goal

Have your child to write or draw a description of his typical daily physical activity. Use Zoey’s example above as a guide. Calculate the number of minutes of exercise per week. Then brainstorm ideas for adding activities to meet the “60 a day”/420 minutes per week target. Develop a method to track your child’s weekly progress throughout the year. Once a week spend a few minutes with your child for follow up. Give positive feedback and help him overcome any obstacles that he might have.


Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer who splits her time between Austin and Seattle.


Afterschool Activity Ideas

  • Ride your bike to the library or park
  • Go to the community basketball court and shoot baskets
  • Go with your parents to their workouts, such as Zumba, yoga, Camp Gladiator
  • Sign up for a class at Austin Parks and Recreation or the YMCA to learn a new activity
  • Play organized sports, like soccer or basketball
  • Go for a gym session for kids, such as parkour, bouldering, climbing, or ninja
  • Install a pull-up bar in a doorway and use it every time you pass
  • Walk your dog or walk an elderly neighbor’s dog
  • Rake leaves or sweep the walk
  • Wear a fitness tracker, set a target number of daily steps, and jog around the neighborhood until you reach your target
  • Do the plank, sit-ups, or push-ups during commercials while watching TV


Weekend Family Activity Ideas

  • Take a family picnic to the park and play a game of tag
  • Volunteer to plant trees or clean up a waterway
  • Hike the greenbelt or Lady Bird Lake walking trails
  • Go swimming at Deep Eddy, Barton Springs, or a neighborhood pool
  • Sign up for a family-oriented 5k and spend several weeks “training” for the event
  • Go to a local track and run
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