Nutrition tip: Children and Exercise
Nutrition tip: Children and Exercise
Movement is a fundamental element of human nature. Without this inherent ability, it would hardly be possible to develop from a dependent infant into a self-reliant, confident and healthy adult. Here physical activity in the first 11 to 12 years of life plays a particular role. Exercise can therefore be regarded as the basic framework of a life that evolves not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. (Photo:©Christian Schwier)

Why is exercise important from an early age?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children and adolescents should be physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. Positive health effects of regular movement on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems are scientifically proven. In addition, physical activity and sport prevent obesity, promote academic and cognitive performance and contribute to personal development. If children move too little, their motor skills deteriorate, the ability to concentrate becomes impaired and overall physical fitness decreases.

Current situation

The HBSC Study (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children 2014) is a regular survey, conducted by the WHO every four years, and is one of the largest child and adolescent health studies in Europe. In the 2013/14 school year, 43 countries took part. The study showed that only one-fifth of Austrian schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 15 meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. A significant decrease in the level of activity has been observed among children and adolescents during the school-going years of 7 to 14. The situation in Germany is similar. A little over a quarter (27.5 %) achieve the WHO’s recommendation of 60 active minutes a day. It has also been observed internationally that the extent of physical activity in children and adolescents tends to be on the decrease. One possible reason for this may be a change in types of leisure activities. In particular, electronic screen media is increasingly shaping the lives of many adolescents. On school days, students spend an average of 5.4 hours per day on tablets, smartphones, computers etc. This figure increases to an average of 7.5 hours on school-free days. Another reason for reduced activity is the ever more challenging schoolwork, which is particularly time-consuming. In general it can be noted that, for both sexes, the extent of physical activity decreases with increasing age. This is a known phenomenon that is explained by physiological and psychological changes during puberty.

What shapes our children?

Those who grow up in sporty families are probably more likely to develop an interest in and enjoyment of exercise. Parents are therefore important role models. As early as 1991, a study showed that children of inactive parents were themselves amongst the least active. With one active parent, the probability of physical activity in children increases 3.5 times, and with two active parents this figure is up to 5.8 times higher. Exercise should be encouraged playfully and should, above all, be fun. Children should also learn that it is not most important to be better than others. It is far more important to give children the freedom to try and to learn from mistakes. The appeal of some things is quite often based on the uncertainty of whether or not the requirements can be met. Dangerous situations can provide children with lasting experiences and competencies. It serves little purpose to prohibit children from doing things but to spend years preparing them theoretically. In teaching independence, parents should stretch out a “safety net” but encourage children to balance on their own.

The right type of sport

Abilities and preferences crystallise over time. The best age for sporting activities is between 10 and 12 years because this is when children have the best coordination skills. Prior to that, the younger generation should be encouraged as much as possible. Fundamentals developed in early childhood will later be useful in every sport.
Club sport is highly recommended; because of its sustainability, it continues long past a school career.

Stay active:

  • Make fixed exercise times and rituals a part of everyday life
  • Accept the child’s desire for movement as its natural “mode”
  • Walk whenever possible
  • Encourage an active path to school (walking, cycling etc.)
  • Interrupt sitting every 20 minutes by getting up and moving
  • Use short breaks as a time for movement (five minutes)
  • Keep children’s rooms free of computers and TV equipment
  • Establish age appropriate rules and limit the time spent on media usage
  • Include movement programmes in class-based teaching and day-care

If you would like to find out more about the topic of children and exercise, we recommend the following website:

The Kornspitz team is always happy to hear from you. If you have any questions, requests, suggestions or tips, please send an email to

Mag. Gerda Reimann-Dorninger
Nutrition Scientist

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