Kids in motion: A pediatrician's tips for getting and keeping kids moving

Parents and kids playing soccer

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children get at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. It’s important not only for physical health, but for mental health as well.

School-aged children who get daily physical activity focus better and perform better in school. Exercise builds stronger muscles and bones, and it’s very important for preventing chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

Your child doesn’t have to do an hour all at once, however. Walking to school, taking the stairs, recess and other organized physical activities at school or after school all contribute.

Tips for getting your child active

At each check-up, we assess how much physical activity children are getting, along with what they’re eating and drinking to see if they have a well-balanced and healthy diet. It’s a vital part of our assessment of children’s health.

The rate of obesity for kids ages 10 to 17 is over 16%, which is 27th in the nation. This percentage is on the rise, but the good news is that summer is here and it’s a great time to get outdoors and moving.

Here are my tips for parents to get their kids active in a healthy lifestyle:

  • Get outside and get involved. Parental involvement in physical activity is important, so encourage your kids to take a walk with you or ride bikes while you walk. Use your local parks to play games like basketball or get some chalk and play hopscotch.
  • Start small. Your child doesn’t have to do an hour all at once. And if your child hasn’t been physically active, start with five to 10 minutes a day and build from there. You don’t want to overdo it immediately and have them get discouraged or injured.
  • Use an app or online resources. Some kids like keeping track of physical activity with exercise apps. Check out free versions online, or try a free trial to see if you enjoy it.

There are plenty of online resources for increasing activity level at home, including Zumba and cardio classes. Dance videos can get kids of all ages kids up and moving. Anything that gets them out of their chairs is a great start, especially if they cannot go outside.

  • Healthy eating goes hand in hand with physical activity. We encourage parents to offer a variety of healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, eat together with your child whenever possible and limit sugary drinks like pop and juice.
  • Children who have two to three servings daily of low-fat dairy have lower rates of obesity. One serving includes a cup of skim milk or yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of low-fat cheese.
  • Limit screen time to less than two hours a day.
  • Sleep is critical to exercise and health. Children ages 3 to 5 should get at least 10 hours of sleep; ages 6 to 12 a minimum of nine hours; and high school students at least eight hours a night. Sleep restores and rejuvenates the body, and is critical to prevent obesity.
  • Make sure your children are exercising in a safe environment. Adults around them should be vaccinated, as well as kids. Equipment should be safe and clothing should be comfortable.
  • Stay hydrated and eat healthy. Make sure children are drinking enough water and take advantage of the summer’s fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Take it inside. If your child doesn’t like outdoor exercise or if safe facilities aren’t available, physical activity, videos and apps can keep kids active indoors.

*Erin Jamen-Esposito, MD, is a UChicago Medicine Medical Group provider. UChicago Medicine Medical Group is comprised of UCM Care Network Medical Group, Inc. and Primary Healthcare Associates, S.C. UChicago Medicine Medical Group providers are not employees or agents of The University of Chicago Medical Center or The University of Chicago.

Erin Jamen-Esposito

Erin Jamen-Esposito, MD*

Erin Jamen-Esposito, MD, is a UChicago Medicine Medical Group provider. Dr. Jamen-Esposito is a pediatrician providing comprehensive care to children of all ages at UChicago Medicine South Loop. 

Learn more about Dr. Jamen-Esposito