Physical Activity Guidelines for Youth

Physical Activity Guidelines for Youth

How much physical activity should children get a day? What are the physical activity guidelines for youth and why does it matter?

It seems like a silly question to ask, “Why do kids (and all of us) need physical activity?” I became interested in this question when I was in my PhD in Nursing program. At the time, my oldest son attended an elementary school that offered a wonderful before school jogging and walking program, Jog and Walk Stars (JAWS).


I decided to start my daughter in a kindergarten Spanish immersion school. Therefore, they attended two different elementary schools (crazy mom). At my daughter’s school, the principal enforced a new rule: No recess in the morning. Instead, all of the students filed in through the office doors and had to go straight to class to “get to know their teachers better.”

What? Don’t the kids get so spend ALL DAY with their teachers? I had to scratch my head on this one. Physical activity is critical for children. I will go into the benefits of physical activity in another post, but in this post, I will discuss obesity and its complications in general and the physical activity guidelines for youth.

More that one-third of adults and almost 20% of youth in the United States are obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2014).

What are some complications of childhood obesity (Kelsey, Zaepfel, Bjornstad, & Nadeau, 2014)? Increased risk for:

  • Developing metabolic syndrome. A cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat.
  • Developing a cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke later in life.
  • Type 2 diabetes and its associated retinal and renal complications. Type 2 diabetes affects the way your child’s body uses sugar (glucose).
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD can lead to scarring and liver damage.
  • Sleep apnea. A child’s breathing stops several times while sleeping.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Infertility
  • Asthma
  • Orthopedic complications– Some include pain in the muscles and joints from the extra weight, osteoarthritis (“wear and tear” disease of the joints over time), and increased risk of injury. Some interesting stats:
    • “Every pound of body weight places four to six pounds of pressure on each knee joint.”
    • “The odds of sustaining musculoskeletal injuries is 15 percent higher for persons who are overweight and 48 percent higher for people who are obese, compared to persons of normal weight.”
  • Social and emotional complications
    • Low self-esteem and being bullied. Children who are overweight are often teased or bullied by their peers, which can lead to depression.
    • Behavior and learning problems. Overweight children tend to withdraw socially or be more anxious compared to their normal-weight peers.
    • Some overweight children become depressed due to their low self-esteem.
  • Cancer

Additional complications of childhood obesity:

  • Early onset of many of the disorders above increases the likelihood of early death
  • Obese children are more likely to become obese adults

This is a lot of information to take in. To make it easier to understand how physical activity plays a role in childhood obesity, take a look at this model on the influences of childhood obesity.


(Davison & Birch, 2001)

When you look at this Ecological Model of Childhood Obesity, you can see that there are many influences on a child’s weight. There are three main influences on a child’s weight:

  • Child characteristics and child risk factors
  • Parenting styles and family characteristics
  • Community, demographic, and societal characteristics

When we look at the child characteristics and child risk factors, we can see that physical activity and sedentary behavior are listed here. In this fast day and age of technology, children don’t have to leave their homes. They can access everything on the internet and socialize on electronic devices such as IPads and cell phones. Although technology is great, parents and teachers can help decrease the risk of childhood obesity and its many complications by following the physical activity guideline recommendations.

You can download the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans by clicking on this link.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity each day. More specifically the Physical Activity Guidelines for Youth includes:

  • Aerobic Activity: Most of the 60 minutes of physical activity should be either moderate- or vigorous- intensity (e.g., running, swimming, dancing, biking, playing a sport), and include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least three days a week. The kids should be sweating!
  • Muscle-Strengthening: Include muscle-strengthening physical activity (such as lifting weights, playing on the playground, climbing) as part of the 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity at least days a week.
  • Bone-Strengthening: Bone-strengthening activities include hopping, jumping rope, or running) and should be included as part of the 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity on at least three days of the week.

I put a picture above of my new Apple watch and running light. I like to use the Nike Run Application to keep track of the miles I run. The Apple watch keeps track of how often you move, exercise, or stand. I still haven’t figured out all the bells and whistles to my watch, but it’s one way to keep track of physical activity. The running like is a reminder to keep safe when running on the streets.

Many schools offer before- and after- school physical activity opportunities such as organized sports, run club or program, and dance. I hope to showcase some of these schools in my posts. If the school your children attend, or you teach at a school that offers a program that allows children to be physically active, please comment below or email me. I’ll be sure to mention your program in a post. Why reinvent the wheel? We can all learn from each other.

In summary, keeping our children healthy is number one, so let’s start by keeping them physically active and trying to achieve the physical activity guidelines for youth!


Davison KK, Birch LL. 2001. Childhood overweight: A contextual model and recommendations for future research. Obesity Reviews 2(3):159-171.

Kelsey, M. M., Zaepfel, A., Bjornstad, P., & Nadeau, K. J. (2014). Age-related consequences of childhood obesity. Gerontology, 60(3), 222-228.

Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of American Medical Association, 311(8), 806-814.



Ipuna Black

Ipuna Black

I’m the mother of four children and have worked in the area of pediatrics as a nurse since 2001. A few initials I have accumulated include: PhD in Nursing, MSN in Nursing, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and RN. My seven-year-old son was hospitalized in 2015 for almost two months with encephalitis and Guillain Barré syndrome. This gave me a deeper perspective on health and wellness for children, and Healthy Kids Play was born. Healthy Kids Play is a child health and wellness blog sharing resources and information to help parents make informed decisions to keep our children healthy and playing. My mission is to help parents, caretakers, educators, and researchers raise healthy kids by sharing resources and information on the multiple influences on child health (physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental). I hope to inspire others to keep our children playing. After all, they are our next generation.

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