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How to Be a Fit Kid

Back in the seventies, the questions weren’t around the topic of How to be a fit kid? The question was often, How do we get our kids to come in for dinner? At least, that’s how it went down in my home.

In my years of working with kids, I’ve found that many kids enjoy movement, especially when they’re young. It’s natural. Let’s face it, our bodies were born to move.

Yet, in our world of conveniences, it’s getting harder to raise a fit kid. As kids get older, their opportunities for physical activity start to fade away.

Encourage Fitness for Kids through a variety of exercises, sports and play.

If you want to raise fit kids, then there are a few things that need to be in place.

  • A supportive environment
  • Role models of an active lifestyle
  • Access to safe play areas, sporting venues, and the like
  • Routines that encourage fitness

In other words, before your child can be a fit kid, he needs the support and environment that makes it easy for him.

In this article, you’ll learn five ways to encourage physical activity in children. We’ll cover:

  • Play as exercise
  • A list of exercises for kids
  • Sports gear that makes being a fit kid fun
  • How to be a fit parent and a role model
  • Common excuses and barriers (and how to overcome them)
  • Physical activity guidelines for kids

What are the Benefits of Physical Fitness for Children?

Fit kids enjoy many benefits. For one, regular exercise is associated with better mental health, optimal health, and a healthy body weight. All of these can lay the foundation of a healthy adulthood.

Conversely, a lack of daily exercise may negatively impact a child’s fitness level and contribute to an unhealthy weight, impacting overall health and wellness.

How Much Exercise Do Kids Need Each Day?

Experts recommend at least 1 hour of physical activity per day, both from planned activity and free play.

How long an activity lasts, how intense it is, and the type of physical activity matters. No longer is walking the dog adequate. Experts want to see children sweaty, red-faced, and breathless for a period of time every day.  

What Kind of Exercise Do Kids Need?

There are three types of physical activity that are important for kids, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  1. Aerobic activity
  2. Muscle strengthening
  3. Bone strengthening

The goal for aerobic activity is 60 minutes per day with at least 3 days per week of vigorous activity. Vigorous activities include running and chasing games, bicycle riding, jumping rope and sports like basketball or swimming.

The goal for muscle strengthening activity is 3 days per week and this can be included in the overall 60 minute goal per day. Muscle strengthening activities include things like sit ups, rope climbing, or swinging on the playground equipment.

Bone strengthening exercises are the third type of exercise kids need. The goal is to do this 3 times per week (and this can also be included in the 60 minute per day total). Examples of bone strengthening activities include hopping, skipping, jumping and sports like gymnastics or tennis.

If you’re relying on school to be the fitness answer for your child, be aware that daily recess and physical education varies from school to school and may not be a significant contributor to your child’s fitness level.

In fact, if your child is a middle-schooler or high schooler, regular physical activity may be missing or only for a semester.

How Can a Kid Get Fit?

Kids get fit and stay fit when they move their bodies every day, using a blend of the above types of exercise. The key is to find exercises and activities they enjoy doing, as this will motivate them to keep doing them.

The key is to find exercises and activities kids enjoy doing, as this will motivate them to keep doing them. #fitkids #healthiswealth Click To Tweet

Work out a routine for daily exercise. Perhaps your child plays a sport a few days a week. Maybe you take a family hike one weekend day. Outdoor, unstructured playtime could balance out the rest.

There are many ways to encourage your child to be physically active and be a fit kid!

5 Essentials for Kids Who Like to Exercise

When I was young, my mom booted me and my siblings out the door after school. She would say, “Go outside and play.”

We weren’t expected to show up until dinnertime. Of course, we stayed in the neighborhood.

Today, it’s harder to make these mandates of our children. For one, safety is a concern for many families. Other kids may be too “programmed” with after-school commitments, leaving exercise low on the list.

If you want your child to be more fit and physically active, it will take more than a list of exercises for kids. Here are a few things I think are essential for raising fit kids in today’s world.

1. Go Outside and Play!

The number one predictor of whether a child gets enough physical activity is the amount of time spent outdoors.  Kids who are allowed to have unstructured play time (or “free” play where they get to decide how they’re moving) often match the recommendations for the hour of exercise each day.

Get outside as a family when you can and encourage your child to play outside as often as possible. Don’t be too prescriptive about what your child does, just let her explore and figure out what to do herself.

2. Sports Gear for Kids

Let your child pick out their own active wear, shoes and sports aids.  Whether an independent exerciser or part of an athletic team, children enjoy having gear that supports their activities. 

Who doesn’t love running to music?  Or shooting baskets in the driveway?

Having the right gear can rally excitement around being active and can promote movement. 

For the teen, gym memberships, pedometers, and exercise groups and classes can be a positive motivator, as well. I’ve got some good fitness gear in my nutrition store–check it out!

How to be a Fit Kid

3. An Active Role Model

A child’s health is determined by his or her behavior.  That may be more than his genetics, healthcare involvement, or social influences. 

You are your child’s role model — his behavior barometer—your child will do what you do. If your child sees you gardening in the yard, working out at the gym or going for a walk or run, he’s learning that this is how to live a healthy life.

He’s learning that exercise is the norm. So, go on, get moving and be that role model your child needs to see.

4. Break Down Fitness Barriers

There will always be roadblocks. Things that get in the way of exercise. Perhaps it’s a neighborhood that isn’t conducive to outside play time. Or maybe both parents are working and time is tight, all things considered.

Identify any road blocks that may get in the way of your family’s activity level. Find solutions for how to deal with these road blocks that will fit your unique family circumstances.

Maybe you have a local YMCA for activity after dinner. Or, school-oriented sports may be the answer.

5. Exercise Video Games & Fitness Apps

Exercise is a high-tech business these days, and options for kids are blooming. From Nike Training Club to yoga apps and Just Dance, there are lots of fun apps and games to get kids moving.

If your child is having a difficult time giving up video games, try compromising with ones that focus on physical activity and interaction.

Hands-on video games, TV exercise programs, and interactive websites can be the beginning of increased activity and fitness for kids.

Grow a Fit Kid!

Physical activity and fitness for kids are necessary parts of healthy living and having a healthy future. Often, one avenue of activity is not the magic pill—it is a conglomeration of several efforts, each and every day.

How are you helping your child be active every day?

Eat Like a Champion by Jill Castle, MS, RDN logo
The Online Sports Nutrition Program for Kids

Need More Help Raising Fit Kids?

If you have a young athlete, be sure to look around this website for more articles on this topic. Here are a few to get you started:

10 Powerhouse Foods for the Young Athlete

6 Eating Habits Young Athletes Should Avoid

Healthy Snacks List for Young Athletes

Learn more about food for active kids with my book and program, Eat Like a Champion.

This post was published in November 2017 | Updated September 2020 to include the exercise guidelines for kids.

Beans for baby are a nutritious offering. Try this finger food recipe called Baby Bean Bites!

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  1. I’m a registered dietitian and mother of five. In my experience, kids don’t need to be “encouraged” to be physically active; they just need competing activities to be limited. We have purposely chosen NOT to enroll our children in organized sports from a young age (time and a place for everything, of course) because we find that kids are quite naturally active when given the opportunity. Screen time is kept to a minimum, and it never fails: they get bored and find ways to be active even inside in the middle of winter. One has to be willing to tolerate a certain amount of “ruckus” in the house, but we have found this to be much more sustainable for our family. We don’t spend hours in the car transporting kids to and from practices and games; we save money; we encourage sibling collaboration (and yes, sometimes rivalry!); I could go on. My six year old just came running up from the basement to tell me that they’d just taught the 2 year old to pedal on a tricycle! 🙂 Parenting sometimes feels like the biggest experiment of your life, so just wanted to chime in with another approach. Thanks for your work!

    1. Thanks for your insight, Nicole! It sounds like you’re doing a great job! Of course, there are lots of ways to structure the day for kids and every family gets to make those decisions for themselves (which is the beauty of it all ;)) — many of the families with which I work strive to find the balance of structured and unstructured activities. Totally agree, when kids are left to their own devices, they certainly figure out what to do! 😉

  2. I leave a lot of comments on a lot of blogs each week – but there is one situation where I rarely leave a comment – even if the post deserves it. Good work!