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Physical Exercise for Children (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

How Much Physical Activity is Enough?

Health benefits can be derived simply from becoming more physically active, but the greatest benefits come from engaging in planned and structured exercise. Cardiovascular risk factors can be reduced and physical fitness enhanced with low to moderate levels of physical activity (40-60% of a person's maximal aerobic capacity) (Blair & Connelly, 1996). And, low- to moderate-intensity activity is less likely than vigorous exercise to cause musculoskeletal injury and sudden heart attack death during exercise (a very rare occurrence even for vigorous exercisers), while it is more likely to promote continued adherence to activity (Blair & Connelly, 1996; NIH, 1995).

Current recommendations state that children and adults should strive for at least 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity physical activity (Pate, Pratt et al., 1995). An alternate approach that may be equally beneficial would be to engage in 5- (Blair & Connelly, 1996) to 10-minute (NIH, 1995) bouts of moderate intensity activity throughout the day, for a total accumulation of at least 30 minutes for adolescents and adults and 60 minutes for children (Pangrazi, Corbin, & Welk, 1996). Walking briskly or biking for pleasure or transportation, swimming, engaging in sports and games, participating in physical education, and doing tasks in the home and garden may all contribute to accumulated physical activity.

Children and adults who already engage in regular activity may benefit from more vigorous activity. The specific amount of energy expenditure needed by children to decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease is not known; for adults, approximately 3 kcals/kg of body weight/day has been recommended (Zwiren, 1993). Weight in pounds can be converted to kg by dividing by 2.2. Thus, a 140-pound person (140/2.2 = 63.6 kg) should expend about 192 kcals/day (63.6 X 3).

How Can We Promote Physical Activity Among Young People?

Quality Daily Physical Education

In addition to being physically active, children need to learn fundamental motor skills and develop health related physical fitness (cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition). Physical education, provided at school, is an ideal way to encourage activity and develop fitness among children and, for many children, will be their only preparation for an active lifestyle. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and the American Heart Association all recommend comprehensive daily physical education for children K-12.

Over the years, state requirements for daily physical education have eroded, and today no states currently have such a requirement (HEALTHY PEOPLE, 1995). Not surprisingly, only a quarter of high school students participate in daily physical education, and only 19% of high school students are active for at least 20 minutes a day during physical education class (PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, 1996). The recent School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS), conducted by CDC, determined that just 47% of middle/junior high schools and 26% of high schools require at least 3 years of physical education (Pate, Small et al., 1995).

Physical education offers many benefits: development of motor skills needed for enjoyable participation in physical activities; promotion of physical fitness; increased energy expenditure; and promotion of positive attitudes toward an active lifestyle. Evidence also exists that physical education may enhance academic performance, self-concept, and mental health (Allensworth, Lawson, Nicholson, & Wyche, 1997).

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