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You Asked For It: Question Authority

Nieman, David C. Dr.P.H., FACSM

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David C. Nieman, Dr. PH, FACSM, is a professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina, an active researcher, and author of several textbooks on health and fitness. E-mail your questions to

Q: I have two children (ages 8 and 11 years). The summer break is just about here, and I am concerned about their health and fitness. What physical activity recommendations do you support to keep them in good shape?

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A: I wish there were more parents like you. Schools are doing little nowadays to keep youth in shape, and parents must shoulder more of the fitness planning and decision making (1). Your efforts as a parent in this area have never been more urgent given the strong increase in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents. Here are some guidelines for you to follow (2-5):

* School-age youth such as your children need 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. The activity should primarily be fun. Try to involve the whole family when possible, and vary the types of games, sports, and activities to keep interest high. The 60-minute activity goal can be accumulated throughout the day (2). Although this amount seems high, an hour or more a day of vigorous physical activity is needed to help ensure that your children avoid disease risk factors and becoming overweight. If your children have not been physically active, start with 20 to 30 minutes a day, and increase the routine by 5 minutes a week until 60 minutes or more is reached. Experience shows that attempting to achieve too much too rapidly is often counterproductive and may lead to injury.

* Reduce sedentary pursuits to less than 2 hours a day. Sedentary activities such as excessive television viewing, computer use, video games, and telephone conversations should be limited and discouraged. Physical inactivity is a strong contributor to overweight. Reducing sedentary behaviors to less than 2 hours a day is important to health and to increasing physical activity (2).

* Adapt the types of physical activity to the age of your children. Game activities work best for children aged 6 to 9 years. Games such as tag and hopscotch are enjoyable, provide good exercise, and help children learn basic movement skills. As youth move into the 10- to 14-year age group, add individual activities such as karate and ballet, or organized sports such as soccer or basketball to their activity routine (2).

During late adolescence (age 15-18 years), physical activity programs can become more structured. Weight lifting, road race running, competitive swimming or cycling, and other athletics can be started depending on the desires of the adolescent. As your children become teenagers, be aware of the strong societal pressures that promote sedentary activities and less physical activity. Community-based sports clubs during adolescence are a valuable physical activity resource.

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There is good evidence that regular physical activity by school-age youth improves muscular strength and bone density, keeps body fat at healthy levels, and keeps the heart and blood vessels in good shape (2). Regular exercise keeps disease risk factors such as blood lipids and lipoproteins and blood pressure under good control while improving mental health and even academic performance.

Do what you can to influence participation by your children in physical activities at home and school and in community and health care settings. You have the responsibility to ensure that your children have the opportunity to explore and learn through movement activities and to be physically active.

Community organizations likewise have a responsibility to provide youth with opportunities for and access to safe physical activities, and with qualified adult leaders. Schools must provide more physical activity during recess and extracurricular school activities, establish physical education programs that encourage the development of physical fitness, and promote summer schools and camps (1,6). I encourage local health care providers to assess exercise habits in youth and counsel families about appropriate amounts of physical activity. As a parent, you can be a strong advocate of a physically active lifestyle for youth at home and in schools and communities.

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1. Trudeau, F., R.J., Shephard. Contribution of school programs to physical activity levels and attitudes in children and adults. Sports Medicine 35:89-105, 2005.

2. Strong, W.B., R.M. Malina, C.J.R. Blimbie, et al. Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. Journal of Pediatrics 146:732-737, 2005.

3. Gorely, T., S.J. Marshall, S.J. Biddle. Couch kids: Correlates of television viewing among youth. International Journal of Behavior and Medicine 11:152-163, 2004.

4. Timperio, A., J. Salmon, K. Ball. Evidence-based strategies to promote physical activity among children, adolescents and young adults: review and update. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports 7(Suppl. 1):20-29, 2004.

5. Gunner, K.B., P.M. Atkinson, J. Nichols, M.A. Eissa. Health promotion strategies to encourage physical activity in infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Journal of Pediatric Health Care 19:253-258, 2005.

6. Jago, R., T. Baranowski. Non-curricular approaches for increasing physical activity in youth: a review. Preventive Medicine 39:157-163, 2004

© 2006 American College of Sports Medicine


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