Yes, we as adults typically need to create time in our lives for exercise, thus making it a "formal" experience. But do kids need that? Do kids need to sign up for exercise classes? In younger years, probably no, they don't. Formal exercise does become more appropriate as your child makes the transition into adolescence and young adulthood -- but keeping activity and exercise fun in the younger years helps set the stage for formal exercise later.
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They already have gym class
Your children already participate in gym class at school. Gym teachers already work to introduce physical activity in the context of fun and games. Kids learn to move, learn about healthy behaviors and are introduced to sportsmanship. While gyms classes take place in a formal manner -- on the same days each week, for a set period of time, and following a vetted curriculum -- they typically strive to make exercise fun. And it mostly works!
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Active, fun opportunities
Instead of signing up your kids for exercise classes, think about exercise for your child in terms of looking for active opportunities. Okay, so those opportunities may be called classes or lessons, but they should really be fun that teaches a physical skill as well. They could also be teams, whether competitive or not. Let your child try out a variety of sports or activities to find the thing they most enjoy. When your child associates being active with smiling and having fun -- much like gym class -- an active, healthy lifestyle is more likely to be maintained for the long haul.
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As kids reach the tween and teen years, formal conditioning programs may become appropriate, especially if your child participates in organized sports and hopes to continue to do so. Appropriate conditioning and resistance work can help prevent injuries and improve performance -- and is an introduction to the kind of formal exercise program most familiar to most adults. While your child's pediatrician may not be nuanced in conditioning programs for the growing adolescent body, a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist may be able to suggest local gyms or DVD-based programs that offer the kind of exercise appropriate to your child's still growing body.
If your child is an athletic prodigy -- if he or she shows a specific ability and dedication for a specific sport -- formal exercise and training programs may be appropriate earlier in life. World-class gymnasts, for example, often start hard training at a very young age. However, these programs should never be undertaken without the consultation of your child's pediatrician, a pediatric sports medicine physician and trained, licensed professionals. You'll be dealing with a special set of concerns with this child, including overtraining and burnout, and you'll need to be very aware of the risks going forward, as well as the benefits.
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More than anything fitness should be fun for your child. There is plenty of time later for rigid programs and fitting exercise classes into the daily schedule. While your kids are young -- and for as long as possible, really -- toss formality aside in favor of fun and games and healthy living for life.
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