What to Know About Cardio for Kids

Cardiovascular exercise has countless benefits: Not only does it help reduce the risk of certain diseases, but it also sets your child up for a longer and healthier life. Plus, research shows that regular aerobic exercise (aka cardio) can increase confidence and self-esteem, reduce stress, and decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

But how much cardio is safe for kids, and how much should they be getting? First some basics:

Any exercise that increases the heart rate and requires your child to rhythmically move large muscles for a sustained amount of time is considered cardiovascular. The most common activities include biking, running, swimming, and team or individual sports.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans kids and teens should get at least 60 minutes of exercise, daily, and it’s safe for much of that movement to be aerobic in nature.

Here are three ways to help kids and teens get moving:

Make it a Family Affair

When was the last time you laced up your shoes and worked up a sweat chasing your teen down a trail? When it comes to exercise, parents and coaches are the best role models for kids. Setting a positive example by being as excited as you want them to be will help them see that 60 minutes a day is doable and fun. Michigan-based Fit Body Boot Camp trainer Kasey Kotarak, NASM, suggests signing up for a 5K race as a family, and then training together twice per week. “The most important thing is to make it fun and switch things up to maintain interest,” she says.

Quick Tip: Take your family to the local track, and perform this circuit:

  • Jog two laps
  • Do one lap by performing walking lunges on the straightaways, and 20 jump squats or jumping jacks on the curves
  • Jog two laps
  • Do one lap by performing side shuffles on the straightaways, and 30 seconds of planks, followed by 10 push-ups on the curves. Repeat two times before moving back to shuffles.
  • Repeat for the desired amount of time.

Create a Schedule

Between school, practice, friends, and family time, kids are busy. Creating a workout schedule that includes cardio exercise, along with strength training and stretching can help keep your child on track. Keep this schedule separate from sports practices and competitions, but reference both when creating a workout program. While physical activity is essential, too much exercise—and more specifically, cardio activity—can take a toll on your child’s physical and mental health. “Look for signs of burnout such as frequent fatigue or exhaustion,” says Kotarak.

Quick Tip: If your child has a cardio-heavy practice, don’t add another session of aerobic exercise on that day. Save the fun physical activities for days away from school sports.

Think Outside the Box

Making cardio fun and accessible is the key to creating habits that stick, especially if your child equates aerobic exercise with running laps at practice, or the dreaded pacer test in PE. Activities like rowing, canoeing, rollerblading, skateboarding, dancing and hiking can suit kids of all ages. Workouts with obstacle courses, trampolines and climbing walls can also pump up the fun while targeting muscular strength and aerobic endurance. Many indoor trampoline or jump parks have these types of courses, as well as gymnastics centers and some gyms.

Quick Tip: Be patient! It may take a few tries for your child to find a cardio activity they like and will stick with. Encourage them to keep trying and play on.

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