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Fit for Duty. . . Fit for Life!
“Fit for Duty. . .Fit for Life!” is a lifestyle-based column provided by USPHS Dietitians/Nutritionists.

Submitted by Therapist Professional Advisory Committee Healthy Lifestyle Subcommittee:
LCDR Damien Avery, USPHS and LCDR Tracy Gualandi, USPHS

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents 

How Do the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Apply to Children and Adolescents?

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/default.aspx) dedicates Chapter 3 to activity recommendations for children and adolescents aged 6 to 17. It is recommended that youth participate in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity in increments that add up to 60 minutes or more each day to significantly improve overall health. With this information, parents and their communities can play a vital role in encouraging our youth to participate in physical activity beyond baseline levels.

By meeting the healthy guideline recommendations, children and adolescents not only develop good habits that last a lifetime, they also build bone density that is particularly important before and during the years of puberty, a time when the greatest gains in bone mass occur. Other health benefits include decreasing obesity, and reducing the development of risk factors associated with heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Increasing physical activity may also play a role in reducing anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. These health benefits are more dependent on overall physical activity, and less dependent on specific components of frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. And, they can be achieved through a variety of activities, instead of dedicated aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening exercises.

Key Guidelines for Children and Adolescents
  • Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily. This physical activity should include the following three categories:
    1. Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes a day should be either moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week. (Examples of moderate activities include riding a bike or walking to school, while vigorous activities include running, playing tag, playing sports such as soccer and swimming.)
    2. Muscle-Strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week. (Examples include climbing, playing on playground equipment, and playing tug-of-war.)
    3. Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week. (Examples include running, jumping, and playing hopscotch.)
  • It is important to encourage young people to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, enjoyable, and offer variety. While exercise for children and adolescents is important, it may be best done through activities that are fun and normally involve ‘play’ versus structured workouts like lifting weights or walking on a treadmill.
  • Children should be encouraged to actively improve aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and bone strength on a regular basis. These three areas of physical activity are normally found in regular child’s play such as that found at school recess including: running, climbing, and jumping.
  • Some activities, such as bike riding, can be both moderate and vigorous depending on the effort of the child involved.
Age Influences on Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents and Meeting the Guidelines

Younger children are naturally active through unstructured activities with spontaneous play, and short bursts of activity. These activities are usually a good mix between moderate-intensity and vigorous intensity exercise. Once children grow into adolescents, their activities generally become more structured in organized sports and games.

Adults should encourage children and adolescents who do not meet the Guidelines to gradually increase the activity levels in ways they enjoy. This can prevent injury, and encourage the development of healthy habits. For those children and adolescents who are already meeting the Guidelines, activity beyond the recommended 60 minutes per day may provide additional health benefits. If children and adolescents exceed the Guidelines, care should be taken to ensure activities are varied, and that adequate time is taken for recovery and recuperation to prevent overtraining.

In summary, it is important that adults encourage children and adolescents to develop healthy lifestyles and better habits to last a lifetime. The benefits of developing a healthy lifestyle as a child continue into adulthood as evidenced by lower risks for developing obesity-related diseases. If children enjoy living a healthy lifestyle consisting of a variety of activities that are fun, they are likely to stick with it. For more examples of types of activity, and real life examples click here http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/guidelines/chapter3.aspx and help our children become more active!
Note: The series “Fit For Duty…Fit for Life!”, is a lifestyle-based column that has been provided by the USPHS Dietitian/Nutritionist PAC (D/N-PAC). Look for “Fit for Duty…Fit for Life!” articles throughout 2009 addressing various issues related to weight management including diet and exercise tips. Thanks to the Therapist PAC for this article.

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