The amount of physical activity children need depends on their age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 3 through 5 years need to be active throughout the day while children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 need to be active for 60 minutes every day.
Many common school-age activities — such as playing on playground equipment and jumping rope — help kids get the recommended amout of exercise. Organized sports are a great way to stay fit, too, but team sports aren’t the only options. Nature hikes, walking, biking or even dancing to their favorite music can get kids moving.
Including physical activity in a child’s daily routine sets the foundation for a lifetime of fitness and good health. And beyond the physical benefits, there are cognitive benefits as well.
“The literature really speaks to the benefit on cognition from cardiovascular exercise,” says Dr. Tanya Brown, a Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist. “So we can see a positive benefit on how a child’s emotionally feeling as well as cognitively functioning. The brain is developing throughout childhood, so it is really primed to be improved.”
Children who get regular exercise have lower levels of depression and stress and higher levels of positive self-image, according to the American Psychological Association. Exercise also is linked to better thinking skills, which leads to improved behavior, attention and academic performance.
Even a short burst of exercise can help.
“To get the cognitive benefits of exercise, it’s important to get the heart rate up,” says Brandi Brian, a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic and certified neurologic clinical specialist. “Getting the heart rate up for as little as four minutes will have short-term benefits that can kind of help in the moment. Then longer term, improving physical fitness through aerobic activity will have longer-term implications on cognition.”
On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Brown and Brian join pediatrician and host Dr. Angela Mattke for a discussion focused on the cognitive benefits of exercise for children.