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Being physically active is one of the most beneficial things that children and adults can do to improve their health. If Americans want to feel and sleep better; strengthen bone, brain and heart health; reduce the risk of excess weight gain; and more, then it’s time to get moving!
The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans just released last month offers more evidence of the health benefits of physical activity than the first edition from 2008. While the recommended amounts of physical activity for youth ages 6 through 17 and adults remain the same, new guidelines were added for children ages 3 through 5. The key guidelines are:
- Preschool-aged children should be active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
- Adults caring for children this age should encourage active play (light, moderate, or vigorous intensity) and aim for at least 3 hours per day.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, preschool-aged children should be encouraged to move and engage in active play and structured activities, such as throwing games and tricycle or bicycle riding. To strengthen bones, young children should do activities that include hopping, skipping, jumping and tumbling. Current advice suggests that to help avoid excess fat and improve bone health in young children, a reasonable target may be 3 hours per day of light, moderate, or vigorous intensity activities.
MEND 2–5 supports these guidelines. Our program includes a 30-minute active play session at the beginning of each 90-minute weekly session. The active play sessions expose children to a variety of movements in a fun, positive way. The sessions also encourage child and parent/caregiver interaction as children discover and explore new movements.
Children and adolescents
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, it’s important that adults offer youth the opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, and that are enjoyable and varied. For health benefits, most activity can be aerobic, like walking, playing soccer, or anything that makes their hearts beat faster.
Young people also need activities that make their muscles and bones strong, like climbing on playground equipment, using resistance bands, and jumping rope. Bone-strengthening activities are important because the greatest gains in bone mass occur during the years right before and during puberty. Most of peak bone mass is obtained by the end of adolescence.
The key guidelines for children and adolescents are:
- Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily:
- Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
- Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
- Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
MEND 7–13 supports these guidelines. During the MEND sessions, children participate in 1 hour of fun activities and group play, designed to improve children’s strength and fitness. The activities are structured and non-competitive and involve a progression in skill level, so all children can participate and benefit. Families also set their own physical activity goals to do at home.
In summary, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults move more and sit less. Any amount of activity has health benefits, but to attain the most benefits, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or swimming, each week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least 2 days each week.
MEND supports these guidelines. We encourage parents to set and keep track of their own physical activity goals and to be active with their children.
Along with healthy eating, regular physical activity can help families manage overweight and obesity and achieve good health. MEND appreciates the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for providing guidance on helping to make physical activity a regular part of our daily lives.