Children's Health and Wellness
March 2014

More U.S. Children Need a Daily Dose of Exercise

One hour a day. That’s all it takes for your child to meet the national physical activity guidelines. Unfortunately, a recent government report found that too few U.S. children are reaching that goal.

Not enough exercise

To assess physical activity levels in children, researchers looked at data from 2 recent national surveys. The surveys asked children ages 3 to 15 about their physical activity. Because activity levels are better defined in older age groups, the investigators focused on responses from children ages 12 to 15.

What did they find? Only 1 out of 4 American children is fitting in enough daily exercise, at a moderate to vigorous level of activity. Of those children, more boys than girls moved at least 60 minutes on all days of the week. Sixty percent of boys and nearly 50% of girls did manage to meet the guidelines on at least 5 days a week. Favorite non-school-related activities: basketball for boys and running for girls.

A daily dose

Health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, tout the benefits of daily exercise for children. Sixty minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise every day can strengthen your child’s heart. It can build stronger bones and help control weight. It can even boost self-esteem and confidence.

To help ensure your child gets a daily dose of health-enhancing exercise, try these strategies:

  • Lead by example. A recent Canadian study found that children moved more if their parents frequently promoted and joined their kids in physical activity.

  • Think of exercise as fun-filled family time. Plan an after-dinner bike ride or walk. Bad weather? Hold a dance party in your living room.

  • Break it up. Your child doesn’t have to do 60 minutes of physical activity all at once. Encourage active play throughout the day.

  • Enlist your child’s help in household chores. Vacuuming, raking leaves, and walking the dog count as physical activity, too.

  • Choose exercise as a reward. If your child does well in school, for instance, schedule a trip to the park or community basketball court.

  • Encourage your child to try different sports. Children are more apt to stick with an activity they enjoy. 


Tuning Out Screen Time

Children spend an average of 3 to 4 hours a day watching TV. Add in technology like video games, tablets, and mobile phones, and they are likely logging more screen time than any other activity during the day, including exercise. Take these steps to help tune out screen time in your home:

  • Limit all types of screen time—for instance, watching TV and playing games—to no more than 2 hours a day.

  • Take the TV out of your child’s bedroom. Children with TVs in their rooms keep their eyes on the screen an average of 1.5 hours more a day.

  • Avoid using TV as a reward or punishment. It can inflate its importance.

  • Involve your child in non-screen-related activities, such as sports or a hobby.

Here are other ways to pry your child's eyes from the screen.


Online resources


Let's Move

Print Source: Physical Activity in U.S. Youth Aged 12-15 Years, 2012. T. Fakhouri, et al. NCHS Data Brief. 2014;141:1-8.
Print Source: The Importance of Parental Beliefs and Support for Pedometer-Measured Physical Activity on School Days and Weekend Days Among Canadian Children. K. Vander Ploeg, et al. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:1-7.
Online Source: Fitness for Kids, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 2009
Online Source: Children and Watching TV,American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2011
Online Source: Making Physical Activity a Part of a Child’s Life, CDC, 2011
Online Source: The AHA’s Recommendations for Physical Activity in Children, American Heart Association, 2014
Online Source: Tips to Reduce Screen Time, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013
Author: Semko, Laura
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 2/19/2014
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.