With the decline of physical education in schools, the increase in sitting activities such as television and video games, and rising rates of pediatric obesity, it is imperative now more than ever that fitness professional develop and implement effective programming for children.
It is recommended that children and adolescents should engage in at least 60 minutes or more of age-appropriate physical activity per day. Because of limited attention spans however, children may be more interested to intermittent sessions of exercise than to extended periods of continuous activity.
It is recommended that several sessions of about 15 minutes, spaced throughout the day, with the majority of this time spent on aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, running, sports, and active play. Muscle conditioning exercise can be included as well, but there is no need for formal weight-room training. Activities like dance or gymnastics, or bodyweight exercises like sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups are more than sufficient. Another important component to a well-rounded children’s fitness program is bone-strengthening, which can be facilitated with plyometric activities, such as hopscotch or jumping rope, at least 3 days per week.
- Children’s heart rates are higher, and their blood pressures are lower, both at baseline and during exercise. They also have a lower sweat rate, meaning it is easier for them to overheat.
- To prevent overheating, make sure children stay properly hydrated, and avoid prolonged activity in hot, humid weather.
- Trainers need to monitor children continuously, and ask frequent questions to ensure they are not over-exerting.
- Encourage children to talk about any pain they may experience during exercise.
- Avoid creating a culture of competition, and focus instead on teaching children the value of being healthy and fit.
- Encourage children to remain active throughout the day, while discouraging long periods of inactivity.
An Adventure-Inspired Workout for Children
Making fitness fun is an essential consideration when developing exercise programs for children. One creative way to turn a workout into an engaging session of active play is to create an adventure-inspired storyline, which the children act out as a group. Here is one such example:
Astronaut Adventure Workout
Introduction– 1-2 minutes
Trainer briefly explains the mission: To travel in a spaceship to Mars, in search of alien life
Astronaut’s Training Camp (Warm Up) – 5 minutes
Trainer leads children through the following exercises, creatively narrating their relevance to the mission
Boarding the Spaceship – 1-2 minutes
Have a series of cones already set up in one corner of the room, in the shape of a square, to represent the spaceship. Children crawl single-file into the spaceship. Once everyone is in, they hold a squat position (to represent sitting down).
Blast Off – 1 minute
Children count down together 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-BLAST OFF! As they say Blast Off, they make a quick shuffling movement with their feet (like a football drill) to simulate the energy of the take-off.
Meteor Shower – 2-3 minutes
Trainer announces that the spaceship has encountered a meteor shower, and is swaying forcefully side to side. Have children lie down on the floor and roll to the right and left several times, to simulate being tossed from one side of the spaceship to the other as it moves erratically through the meteor shower.
Evading the Meteors – 2-3 minute
In the midst of the meteor shower, Trainer announces “Look! There’s Mars in the distance!” Children pretend to grab the steering controls on the spaceship and make steering motions with their arms to evade the meteors and move the spaceship toward the planet.
Landing on Mars – 2-3 minutes
Trainer announces that the spaceship is entering Mars’ atmosphere. Due to the sudden, strong gravitational pull, the spaceship is moving at an alarming speed toward the surface of the planet. Have children partner up, and pull each other in opposite directions while holding hands. After about a minute, each child jumps out of the spaceship one by one, onto the planet.
Searching for Martians – 3-4 minutes
Children spread out and crawl on their bellies (army crawl) and/or crabwalk around the room, pretending to search.
Heading Home – 3-4 minutes
Children board the spaceship by crawling into it single-file. Just as they did when they left Earth, children count down together 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-BLAST OFF! As they say Blast Off, they make a quick shuffling movement with their feet (like a football drill) to simulate the energy of the take-off. All children help steer for a few minutes, until Trainer announces they are back home on Earth.
Cool-Down and Stretch – 5 minutes
Trainer leads children through cool-down and stretches, while engaging them in conversation about the adventure they just experienced.
Helping children to establish healthy lifestyle habits now could potentially prevent the serious health consequences of obesity later in life.