In an effort to “standardize student achievement and close achievement gaps,” the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was passed. This has led school districts to revise their curricula to increase emphasis on core academic subjects. These changes have reduced instruction time on nonacademic subject matters, such as physical education, arts, and music. This decreases the amount of physical activity children are exposed to during school hours.

Today, less than half of youth aged 6 to 7 years meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services. The recommendation is at least one hour of physical activity each day. Physical activity facilitates a child’s cognitive development and academic success, and can be achieved in a variety of ways before, during, and after school.

Physical activity fosters academic achievement

Physical activity promotes positive mental health, builds strong bones and muscles, and reduces the likelihood of developing obesity and risk factors that can lead to chronic diseases. Physical activity also affects a child’s academic achievement. It helps to improve concentration, memory, and classroom behavior. Children who meet the guidelines for physical activity have higher test scores in both math and reading, compared to those who spend less time in physical education classes. One study found a positive relationship between aerobic fitness, learning, and memory in a group of fourth grade children. The study suggests that reducing physical education in schools may actually hinder academic performance for developing children. Even occasional aerobic exercise of moderate intensity is helpful, according to another study. These spurts of exercise during recess breaks or activity-based learning can improve a child’s cognitive performance, according to the study.

Exercise recommendations for adolescents

Encouraging children to be active is essential for proper growth and development. However, it is important to recommend activities that are safe and appropriate for their abilities, as well as fun, so it is something they will want to do. Most of a child’s physical activity should be moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity, such as:

  • bike riding
  • running
  • dancing
  • playing active games and sports

Play activities and sports that help children of all ages develop strong bones, including:

  • hopping
  • skipping
  • jumping

Activities that children prefer vary by age. Younger children tend to prefer short bursts of activity with brief rest periods, while older adolescents can participate in longer durations of more structured activities. Younger children enjoy active play, such as gymnastics or playing on a jungle gym. Older adolescents are better equipped for weight-bearing activities that include aerobic activities such as soccer or lacrosse, and bodyweight exercises, such as:

  • pushups
  • pullups
  • mountain climbers
  • burpees

Inspire physical activity in your home and community

One way to ensure that your child is getting enough physical activity is to lead by example. Model an active lifestyle and make it part of the family’s daily routine. Make physical activity a part of time spent together as a family. Take advantage of pubic parks, baseball fields, and basketball courts in your community. Make sure your child has access to recreational equipment, such as:

  • a bike
  • a basketball
  • a jump rope
  • a kite

Keep an eye out for upcoming events that promote physical activity at your child’s school, church, or community center. Instead of playing video games, encourage your child to play with their friends. Team up with other parents in your neighborhood to provide a safe environment for activity-based birthdays or holiday celebrations.

The most thorough approach to improving a child’s health involves home, school, and community. According to a report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “physical education in school is the only sure way for children to access health-enhancing physical activity and the only school subject area that provides education to ensure that students develop knowledge, skill, and motivation to engage in health-enhancing physical activity for life.” Parent-teacher associations can further promote these ideas by advocating:

  • strong physical education and recess policies that emphasize increases in time and frequency
  • academic lessons that include physical activity
  • shared-use agreements to allow school facilities to be used for physical activity outside of school hours
  • child involvement in intramural sports and activity clubs


Physical activity is one of the best ways Americans of all ages can improve their health, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.These are the most current guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The key guideline for children and adolescents is to get at least one hour of activity daily, including aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening exercise.