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The Top 5 Outdoor Sports for Kids

It used to be that kids would come home from school, change into their sweats, and run back outside to play until the sun went down. But in today's world, there are hundreds of television stations, video games, and interactive Web sites that keep kids occupied for hours on end. This leaves many of today's children feeling perfectly content spending their free time sitting still. We used to talk about kids and use words like "basketballs" and "jump ropes" -- today we're just as likely to use words like "obesity," "heart disease," "high blood pressure," and "diabetes."

So how can we get our kids up and moving again? Here are five popular outdoor sports for kids and the benefits they offer today's children.

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For over a century now, little boys and girls have grown up dreaming of being baseball players. Why not get your children started early? Kids as young as 5 can learn how to play T-ball. After that, it's on to softball and then hardball (otherwise known as baseball).

Most local baseball teams are part of the national Little League Baseball organization. In fact, nearly 3 million kids in America today between the ages of 5 and 18 participate in Little League. The length of the Little League season depends on the part of the country you live in, but in most areas it's about three months long and runs in the spring or summer.

Here are some of the benefits that your child will get from playing baseball or softball:

Physical benefits

  • Physical strength
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Balance

Social benefits

  • Citizenship
  • Discipline
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership

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Soccer may seem like an activity that's more popular in other parts of the world, but it's actually one of the most commonly played sports in America today. The U.S. Youth Soccer Organization was founded in 1974 with a humble 100,000 registered players. Today, there are more than 3 million.

Most soccer teams are part of a local chapter of the U.S. Youth Soccer Organization. Kids as young as 4 years old can participate -- albeit with a smaller ball and on a smaller field than older children. And soccer's fast pace allows it to hold the attention of kids who would frequently get bored playing other sports.

Here are some of the benefits that your child will get from playing soccer:

Physical benefits

  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscle strength
  • Flexibility
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Weight control

Social benefits

  • Discipline
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Fairness
  • Self-esteem

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Every kid remembers learning how to ride a bike. At the beginning, the training wheels were on and Mom or Dad was holding the back of the bicycle seat. But soon enough, you were off on your way -- your first experience of independence and freedom.

In addition to being lots of fun, bicycle riding is also a great form of exercise. Kids can start on a plastic, three-wheel tricycle as young as age 2. Parents can then introduce a two-wheeler with training wheels around the age of 5. Once your child has mastered that, the training wheels can come off within several months. But, for safety reasons, it's recommended that kids not ride multispeed bikes, mountain bikes, or bikes with hand brakes until the age of 9. Also, kids under the age of 8 shouldn't be riding in the streets by themselves -- try your driveway or bike paths through a park instead.

Here are some of the benefits that your child will get from bicycling:

Physical benefits

  • Leg strength
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Weight control

Social benefits

  • Discipline
  • Self-esteem
  • Sense of community
  • Family bonding
  • Feeling of freedom
  • Environmental awareness

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Inline skating is one of the most popular activities among kids today. But before you gasp in horror at the thought of your child falling onto hard concrete, you should know that there are safety measures you can take to keep your child safe while he goes zipping around on skates.

Kids who have well-developed motor skills can start inline skating at as young as 4 or 5 years. If your child seems interested in inline skating, you should first take him for a lesson with a professional. Of course, make sure your child is wearing all the proper gear when he goes to his first lesson. These include a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. His skates should also have brakes.

Here are some of the benefits that your child will get from inline skating:

Physical benefits

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Muscle strength

Social benefits

  • Feeling of freedom
  • Self-esteem

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It may sound boring to some, but walking is one of the best forms of exercise that kids (and adults) can get. It's especially helpful for children who don't enjoy extreme physical exertion or competitive games.

Walking is a very general term -- it can range from a peaceful stroll through the local park to hiking up a mountain. Kids as young as 2 can go out for a simple walk with Mom or Dad, but you should probably hold off on hiking until the kids are 5 or 6. Either way, it's a great opportunity to see the world, get in touch with nature, and stay in shape!

Here are some of the benefits that your child will get from walking:

Physical benefits

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Leg strength
  • Weight control

Social benefits

  • Feeling of freedom
  • Self-esteem
  • Environmental awareness
  • Family bonding

Sources: Fitness and Kids; Little League Organization; U.S. Youth Soccer Association; National Center for Bicycling and Walking; International Inline Skating Association

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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