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Why Your Little Ones Need More Play Time, Not Less

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The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has released their revised physical activity guidelines for Americans for the first time in 10 years. The good news: Regular activity remains key for better overall health. The better news: Not only has moving been found to help stave off and help manage even more illnesses and health conditions, but it turns out even short bursts can help. Plus, all that running around your kids do isn’t just a good way to stay out of trouble—it’s essential in helping them grow and thrive. Here are the highlights from the report. Now get out there and play!

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Preschool kids should play at least three hours a day. For the first time ever, experts have come out with clear activity guidelines for kids ages 3 to 5. It’s recommended that they be encouraged to have fun with light, moderate, and intense activity. This includes active play; structured activities, such as throwing games and bicycle or tricycle riding; and also activities that strengthen bones, like hopping, skipping, jumping, and tumbling. For kids with disabilities, it’s advised that they meet these guidelines to the best of their abilities—or do as much as they can to stay active.

School-age kids should be active for a total minimum of 60 minutes a day. From ages 6 to 17, the guidelines recommend a combo of moderate and vigorous activity for a total of at least an hour a day. The ideal combination: cardio (swimming, dancing, biking), muscle-strengthening (playing on playground equipment, using resistance bands, some yoga), and bone-strengthening. Since bone mass generally peaks by the end of adolescence, bone-strengthening moves—where the body has impact against the ground—can really be key (think: basketball or tennis; hopscotch counts, too). It’s recommended that kids this age incorporate muscle-strengthening exercise and bone-strengthening exercise at least three days a week. As with preschool children, the recommendation for kids with disabilities is that they meet these guidelines to the best of their abilities, or do as much as they can to stay active.  

Any amount of activity counts. You can forget the old rule that says you need to move for 10 minutes or more to get credit. The new guidelines say it’s all cumulative: Any activity is more valuable than none. So yeah, running up and down two flights of stairs eight times in one afternoon while doing the laundry? It counts. This is true for all ages.

For adults, the more you move, the better the health payoff. For adults specifically, the recommendation is to do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity—think yard workhome repair, brisk walking, vinyasa yoga—or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity—like kickboxing class, hiking with a heavy pack, running, swimming laps—aerobic physical activity each week. Ideally, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week (but remember, anything you do is still good for you!). The health benefits of this much activity are impressive: It can lower risk of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. What’s more, logging activity above the recommended 300 minutes can lead to greater health benefits.

Pregnancy is no excuse to quit the gym. Staying active during pregnancy can have a number of positive benefits. The guidelines state that at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy increases or maintains cardiorespiratory fitness, reduces the risk of excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes, and reduces symptoms of postpartum depression. (Note: If you had a regular fitness routine pre-pregnancy—even one of vigorous intensity—it’s usually safe to continue once pregnant, and again after the baby is born.) In related news, the reduced risk of excessive weight gain during pregnancy can also make it easier to lose weight after delivery and reduce the risk of future obesity, and reduce the risk of having a high-birth weight baby. In fact, the guidelines report that some evidence suggests that physical activity may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, reduce the length of labor and postpartum recovery, and reduce the risk of having a Cesarean section.  

Activity can also yield postpartum plusses. According to the guidelines, studies show that moderate-intensity physical activity for 150 minutes a week following the birth of a child increases women’s cardiorespiratory fitness and improves mood—with no negative impact on breast milk volume, breast milk composition, or infant growth.  

It’s official: We need to move more and sit less. Sitting a lot has been linked to increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality, as well as an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease; type-2 diabetes; and colon, endometrial, and lung cancers. While the new guidelines report that the link isn’t observed in people who get 60 to 75 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day, the fact is, few of us are moving that much. Their suggestion: Reduce sitting time and increase activity to reduce overall risk. So the next time someone asks you to meet for coffee, take it to go and walk and talk instead. 

The list of activity-related health benefits just got longer. Scientists already knew that activity could help prevent breast and colon cancers, but the new guidelines state that it’s also a deterrent for cancers of the bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lungs. Other newly examined long-term benefits of activity include improved cognition and a lower risk of excessive weight gain. And for instant gratification, getting the recommended amount of activity has been shown to reduce anxiety and blood pressure, improve quality of sleep, and help with insulin sensitivity.  

Find other great health and wellness stories at  Parents.com/Strive