Get a Move on this Spring with Tips to get your child exercising

While driving down Cedar Lane on the first warm day during our long winter, I saw kids outside playing and biking. It warmed my heart! It was great to see folks getting some fresh air and exercise.



As an exercise physiologist with the HCGH Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, I see the long-term effects of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that are made worse by excess weight. It’s especially worrisome to see so many kids struggling with their weight, because childhood obesity is a precursor to many health problems that will follow them into adulthood.

Here’s some advice to help get kids started with regular exercise:

Start with what they know.

A good way to start is to have the child perform exercises that they’ve done in gym class and see how many pushups or crunches they can do in a minute, how long they can hold a plank or how many times they can run around the track. Record the results and use this as a baseline to track progress. If your child is not an athlete, pushing sports – especially team sports – may be a turn off.

Set achievable goals.

For teens, find out what they want to get out of an exercise program. Do they want to lose weight? Build muscle? Have more energy? Or, just want to become more fit? Help them to set goals they can meet. Set a timeframe to re-evaluate progress; e.g., every two weeks or once a month, and then set new goals.

For children through “tweens,” build in rewards. Suggest that you’ll walk or bike around the lake or neighborhood and then stop at the playground for free time. Invite their friends to come along.

Once a regular routine has been established for two to three months, mix it up. Inspire them to try new activities – dance class, rock-wall climbing, kayaking. Find out what motivates them and use it – friends, competition or keeping logs to see progress. Keep them motivated.

Start out simple and slow.

Kids are still growing, so you need to be careful to prevent injury and build strength and endurance over time.

  • Watch the impact on joints. Cycling, swimming, biking, martial arts and tennis are good exercises.
  • Use low weights, building with higher repetition and resistance bands to help increase strength.
  • Stability balls are great and inexpensive tools.
  • Set your kids up for success. If they are completely new to exercise, just starting to move is a great beginning. Running is a tough way to start if the child isn’t fit.
  • Start with exercise that is challenging, but not too difficult. A little discomfort is okay; a lot of pain is not.
  • Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise. For most kids, the ultimate goal should be 60 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Do a combination of cardio, strength and flexibility exercises.
  • Don’t encourage crash diets or extreme exercise. These can be discouraging and impossible to stick with.

As fitness increases, consider new activities.

  • Get Active/Stay Active Howard County has a variety of programs that allow kids to try out new activities without committing to long-term, expensive programs. Visit County Striders is a great opportunity to run and walk with other kids at a variety of fitness levels. Visit
  • Girls on the Run is an after-school running program. Visit
  • Visit the Howard County Recreation and Parks site for a full list of affordable and accessible facilities at
  • Team sports through community leagues or school.

Get educated about exercise.

Teach good form for all exercises to avoid injury and maximize benefit. If you are not familiar with an exercise, get help from a professional. Online tools and apps track activity, calories and goals. Exercise should be a life-long goal, not a temporary hobby.

Support them.

You can’t exercise for them, but you can be a great source of inspiration, motivation and encouragement. Let your child or teenager know you are in this together and that exercise is as important for you as it is for them. By exercising with them, you can set a great example and get your child on the road to a healthier lifestyle.

Make sure your child knows exercise is not about the way they look. They need to feel loved and accepted, not criticized. Exercise should be a way of life, not something that has to be forced. Build the healthy habit!

For more information about encouraging a healthy lifestyle for your children, see this presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight.”

Suzie Jeffreys is an exercise physiologist with the Howard County General Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. Click here for a presentation called “Weighing in on Your Child’s Weight,” featuring Suzie Jeffreys.