Summer is finally here, and parents all over will be looking for creative ways to keep their kids active. And for good reason: Physical exercise has a whole laundry list of health benefits for kids — if you can convince them to engage in it!
So how do we get our kids up and active without making it seem like a chore? Read on for the research behind exercise for kids, plus five exercise ideas that will get your kids off the couch. (Hint: These exercises can even help their performance in school. Talk about a win-win!)
Why do kids need exercise, anyway?
It’s no secret that a lack of physical activity is at the root of nearly all modern health problems. Unfortunately, the amount of exercise that our kids are getting each day has plummeted. Recent studies have shown that less than one quarter (24%) of children are getting the recommended amount of physical activity per day.
During the pandemic, U.S. kids exercised even less. In one study of kids ages 5 to 13, the average child spent 90 minutes per day sitting for school activities during the pandemic lockdowns — plus another eight hours per day for leisure. Why does that matter? Because physical exertion is good for both the body and the mind. And every minute a kid spends sitting down is a minute when they’re not exercising.
Regular exercise in children and young adults is associated with a host of physical and mental health benefits, such as better performance on cognitive tests, improved sleep and relaxation, and enhanced memory and recall. Kids who exercise regularly also boast higher grades and rates of school attendance, increased focus and improved behavior in the classroom.
How many hours of exercise do kids need?
The CDC recommends approximately 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous daily exercise for kids ages 6-17. These studies break down physical activity into three types: aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening. As part of their daily hour of exercise and movement, kids should engage in each of those three types. (Here are some quick examples of each: Aerobic exercise includes cardiovascular conditioning activities like biking, running and swimming. Muscle-strengthening exercises include things like sit-ups, gymnastics and climbing. Bone-strengthening exercises can be anything from skipping rope to playing hopscotch.)
Exercise for kids delivers major health benefits: According to the CDC, children who participate in the suggested amounts of exercise daily build stronger muscles and bones, control their weight more effectively, and have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer. In the study, regular physical exertion also led to decreased levels of stress and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
What happens to kids’ brains when they exercise
Neuroscientists have found that moderate exercise during youth increases the ability of the brain to form new pathways between neurons — a brain-healthy phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire, relearn and strengthen important connections, is critical at all ages but especially in a child’s first five years of life.
Appropriate levels of exercise for kids also improves a process known as neurogenesis, which is how a brain produces new neurons. Moderate aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health, which stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and increases blood flow and circulation in the brain.
In a 1999 study, researchers found that physically active mice grew an average of two times the amount of brain cells than mice who received less exercise. The active mice also performed spatial tasks and problem-solving tasks better than their less active counterparts.
Clinical studies have also shown a link between exercise and an increased volume of matter in the areas of the brain associated with higher-level executive processing. Executive processing is a fancy word for things such as planning, focus, attention, organization, behavioral control, memory formation, ability to follow instructions and multi-tasking.
Studies from 2012 and 2020 both found that after as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise, children with ADHD showed improvements in attention, focus and staying on task. And they did better on tests in reading and math — and reported increased levels of concentration.
The data seem to indicate that developing moderate, healthy exercise habits during the formative years when the brain has its highest levels of neuroplasticity will deliver cognitive benefits that last a lifetime.
Top 5 exercises for kids
So, all this research begs the question: How can we motivate our kids to exercise more? The CDC recommends age-appropriate, entertaining activities varied enough to maintain a child’s interest. Here at Miko, we recommend the following five exercises for kids — all of which can help your child be healthy, happy and ready to give it their all once school starts again.
It may seem like an impossible task to get your kids into a healthy exercise routine. But the fun physical discussed below will help your child view exercise as less like a chore and more like recess!
1. Go for a run
Many physical trainers extol the virtues of running for adults. But according to recent scientific studies, the health benefits of running also extend to children. The cardiovascular perks of running are numerous. The quick movements rush blood all around the body, including to the brain, nourishing both your body and mind. Running also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which can help your child feel less stressed and anxious. Lower cortisol levels also make it easier for kids to relax and fall asleep.
There are few better ways to burn off excess energy than running. Running is one of the most natural movements for children and young adults. Kids start to run shortly after they learn to walk. If you notice children at play, you’ll see they run everywhere; to and from classes, sprinting after the bus, playing tag at recess and chasing their friends. But if you ask your kids to start running simply for the sake of physical activity, they could get bored of it quickly. So here are some fun ideas to help incorporate running into your children’s daily exercise routine.
Time your kids to see if they can beat their personal best sprinting records. All you’ll need is a stopwatch, which you can find on any smartphone, and a place to run. Find any distance between two points (you don’t have to measure it out) and time your kids as they run. Keep a record of their best times and encourage them to try and beat their personal record week after week.
Tag, you’re it! A game of tag is another great way to incorporate running into your kid’s recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. You’ll often see kids spontaneously break into a game of tag when they’re playing at playgrounds. Tag is one of the best ways to get kids up and moving without making it seem like an exercise routine. You’ll be shocked at how much distance kids can cover in a simple game of tag.
- Red Light! Green Light! To start a game of red light, green light, simply stand at one end of a field and have all the kids stand at the other. When you yell out “green light!” they all run toward you. When you yell out “red light!” they all have to stop immediately. Anyone who keeps running is eliminated. The goal is to get to the person who is yelling the commands first before being eliminated. Red light, green light is an amusing and entertaining exercise for kids.
2. Dance it out
Who doesn’t love to cut a rug? Most people think of dancing as a fun, light-hearted activity. And while dancing is amusing and enjoyable, it’s also a great way to get some serious exercise. Did you know you burn over 400 calories in just 60 minutes of light-to-moderate dancing?
Because dancing is a whole-body activity, kids exercise their heart, muscles, bones and joints. Dancing also releases the feel-good endorphins that lower stress hormones and promote a host of neurological health benefits. And it’s just plain fun!
Want to dial up the fun on your kid’s next dance session? Invite Miko 3 to the party! Miko’s Dance Master app features two dance presets, Let’s Groove and My Mixtape. Under the Let’s Groove preset, Miko uses AI to sync to the beat and start dancing to any music you play out loud. If you prefer to see Miko perform one of its favorite dances (and dance along, of course), the My Mixtape option has 12 preset routines!
Miko 3 also boasts an app-based version of Hide and Seek called I Seek You that encourages the child to dance after Miko “finds” them!
3. Try mind-body activities like yoga
You may not typically associate yoga with a fun activity for children, but according to a study conducted at Harvard, nearly 3% of kids were practicing yoga regularly — and the number is increasing every year. The truth is, yoga is a healthy way to exercise both body and mind for anyone! The term yoga refers to the union of body and mind, and this exercise for kids does just that, promoting physical and mental well-being in your kid.
Don’t have the time or energy to take the kids to a yoga studio? They can learn yoga exercises from the comfort of your home with Miko 3. Miko’s Cosmic Kids Yoga app offers helpful lessons on yoga poses and friendly, professional training. These fun, kid-friendly sessions will help your kid practice yoga on the moon, in the jungle and all sorts of other exciting settings!
4. Do the crab walk
The crab walk is an amazing core-strengthening exercise for kids. Why? Because it targets lots of muscle groups and is lots of fun! You don’t need any special equipment, either; you’ll just need a kid and some space!
Instruct your child to sit down on the ground with their feet out in front, flat on the ground, and their hands behind them, flat on the ground. Ask your child to push up and raise their tummy to the ceiling, balancing on their hands and feet. Now have them walk around using their hands and feet.
You can crab walk anywhere and everywhere! You can have crab walk races. Crab walk around your house. Crab walk at the park. Do a crab dance! Lift up an arm or a leg and try to balance on only the other 3! There are so many crab walk activities to do, your kids will think it’s claw-some!
And while crab walking may seem like hilarious fun and games to your little one, it’s actually a great exercise that promotes balance, motor skills, coordination and cardiovascular health. Crab walking also helps strengthen muscles, bones and joints. That makes it a perfect exercise for kids of all ages.
5. Hold a jumping jacks competition
Most children have performed the jumping jacks exercise in a physical education class. But did you know jumping jacks are a classic aerobic exercise for kids? Jumping jacks promote cardiovascular health by increasing your child’s heart rate and blood flow. They also improve a child’s muscular strength, bone density, stamina and endurance.
Jumping jacks work out nearly every muscle in the body, especially the heart. They’re a simple, effective way for your kids to get a whole body workout without any special equipment. And they can be done anywhere!
One fun way to make jumping jacks interesting is to time your child doing them for 60 seconds and then see if they can break the record. If you have more than one child, try having a jumping jack competition! Also, try doing the exercise in different locations, like outside in the backyard or at a local park!
Encouraging exercise for kids: Tips and tricks
One of the most effective ways to motivate your child to exercise is to help them discover healthy activities they actually enjoy. Read on for helpful tips that can encourage your child to pick up — and stick with — healthy, fulfilling physical activities.
- Make physical activities fun and varied so they don’t get bored. Having diverse activities will help keep things fresh and enjoyable for the kids.
Mix things up to keep your children from getting used to a “routine.”
Make sure your kid tries different types of exercises; that way, they’ll work different muscle groups and get various levels of intensity.
- Keep the activities fun and light-hearted to ensure your kids will want to do them again.
- Turn exercises into games and competitions.
Every kid loves to win. It’s no secret children love games and competition spurs motivation. Try these tips to help your kid step up to the challenge!
You don’t have to have the kids compete against one another. Have them try to beat their previous best personal record.
Keep a log of previous best records of various exercises and physical activities.
Give small prizes or rewards if the kids can break their own record. Be sure to choose rewards that promote healthy living!
When it comes to exercises for kids, there’s such a thing as positive peer pressure. If you can get a group of kids or your whole family to start doing healthy activities, your kids will be more likely to join in.
Make exercise a social activity that involves their friends and your family.
Kids also mimic the behavior of their parents. Try to lead by example and be a good role model by participating in athletic activities with your little ones.
Kids are more likely to stick with healthy activities (and stay accountable!) if exercise takes place in a social setting. So try crab walking in the park or running around the local track. The options are endless!
Not all technology has to be sedentary. Use fun, engaging tech to make exercise exciting for kids.
Things like a smartwatch can help keep track of daily exercises and movements. Reward your kids if they meet daily activity goals.
Limit the amount of time your kids can spend on activities that don’t promote active engagement.
- If your kids are engaging in a sedentary activity, remind them to get up and move around every few minutes. For example, during a commercial break or at set intervals, challenge them to stretch or do some jumping jacks.
- Limit sedentary screen time. Instead, seek out tech like the Miko 3 kids AI robot, which gets children moving with dance, yoga and other exercises for kids.
The bottom line on exercises for kids
Science has long established that lack of physical activity and proper exercise is at the root of almost every health problem we face in the modern world. If we can solidify healthy routines and habits during childhood, we can prevent a host of problems later in life. Exercise benefits not only physical health, but mental health as well. When kids are young, the increased blood flow from physical activity and moderate exercise improves circulation in the body and helps the brain form many more connections compared with subjects who lead a less active lifestyle.
Kids robots like Miko 3 can help make exercise for kids less boring and more fun. Miko can educate children about the importance of healthy habits in a playfully educational way. The Cosmic Kids Yoga app on Miko 3 teaches kids yoga, and Dance Master engages them in fun dance routines. Kids can also play I Seek You — Miko’s spin on hide and seek.
The bottom line when it comes to exercise for kids? It’s as good for the body as it is the mind, and Miko 3 is the perfect partner for active little learners who want to get moving — not just during the summer, but all year long. Why not try incorporating some Miko time into your child’s exercise routine this summer?