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Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

In addition to healthy eating habits, adequate sleep, and proper hygiene skills, children also benefit from plenty of physical exercise which helps to keep their bodies and minds healthy, happy and strong. Daily physical activity is necessary for building strong bones and muscles as well as for strengthening growing hearts and lungs. Regular activity helps to prevent childhood obesity, and can greatly decrease children's risk of serious health complications such as diabetes. Exercise also helps children to refine their gross motor skills, including running, kicking, throwing, and swinging, helps enhance their social skills (provided they are exercising in a group context such as team sports where they can learn about functioning as part of a team, and about good sportsmanship, problem solving and inclusion), provides opportunities for friendships to develop and for goals to be set and accomplished which can enhance self-esteem. In addition to these benefits, exercise is fun and exhilarating which are the most important reasons of all.

kids runningThe USDA recommends that children get in at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days (every day if possible). This can seem like an ambitious goal to meet at first. However, there are many different fun and interesting ways children can get in their daily dose of exercise. There is no need for exercise to ever become a monotonous or boring chore. A partial list of ways parents can help their children (and potentially themselves!) to exercise appears below:

Children can participate in team sports (e.g., soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, etc.) or group skills training classes (e.g., swimming, gymnastics or dance lessons) offered through their school or through city-funded community recreation programs.

Children may play "pretend army" or "pretend family" or "tag" in the family's yard or nearby parks, school playgrounds or open spaces where they can run around in packs and burn off some energy.

Children may be encouraged to walk or bicycle to visit friends or to attend lessons, getting some exercise in the process of transporting themselves to where they will play or learn.

Families can also exercise together. Weather permitting, families can go for a shared walk around the neighborhood or in a local park, ride bicycles, go rock climbing (outside or at the gym), play baseball, basketball, catch, or numerous other sports in the backyard or at a park, go skiing or snowshoeing or building snow forts and enjoying a snowball fight.

On days when it is too rainy or cold to be outside, families can go to a local bowling alley or skating rink, or play Wii Sports.

Many communities have health clubs, recreation centers, and YMCA or YWCA facilities which have been designed to offer exercise opportunities for the entire family. Temporary childcare may be available for younger kids, while older kids and adults can choose from a variety of physical exercise opportunities including weight training, exercise bikes, court sports, yoga, swimming, etc. Membership in such facilities is often expensive and may be out of reach for some families. However, some locations will offer low or no cost scholarships to needy families who inquire about such opportunities.

Family exercise time provides benefits for the entire family, including quality time together to bond and become closer with one another, exercise for busy parents, and the opportunity for parents to model good exercise habits for children. Family exercise time also provides parents an opportunity to make sure that children follow proper safety practices. Whatever kids or families choose, the point is to maintain fun daily exercise as part of the family routine.