New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center | Boston Children's fit kit: Fitness

Person runningThe Boston Children’s fit kit offers strategies, tools, and activities on five key topics — nutrition, fitness, sedentary time, sleep, and stress — to help families live healthy, active lifestyles. Learn more about the Boston Children’s fit kit or keep reading below to dig into fitness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

The 60 daily minutes should include:

  • aerobic activity 
  • muscle-strengthening activity
  • bone-strengthening activity

Most physical activity should be moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity — what we call exercise. Sadly, few kids meet this guideline. Approximately one in four children ages 6 to 17 participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day, and there is a significant drop in levels of physical activity as children get older. In addition, girls are less likely than boys to get the minimum recommended physical activity.

The Boston Children’s fit kit focuses on exercise to build aerobic fitness, which is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to working muscles. There is a direct association between aerobic fitness and health. Regular exercise — at the frequency, duration, and intensity recommended in the Boston Children’s fit kit — will generally lead to fitness.

Why is exercise important for kids?


aerobic fitness increases

cardiovascular system stays healthy

breathing during exercise improves

bones become harder and stronger

muscles get bigger, stronger, and more efficient

blood sugar stays at just the right levels

immune system is stronger

weight control is easier

sleep improves

mental health is better, and mood improves

Exercise also can help kids do better in school, and feel happier overall. Plus, an active lifestyle is likely to carry over from childhood into adulthood.

How much exercise should kids get?

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exercise 60 minutes every day

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include at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three or more days per week (this can be within the 60 minutes of daily exercise)

What counts as exercise?

Depending on age and interests, many kids get some exercise as part of daily life — walking briskly to school, biking around the neighborhood, or going to gym class. Regardless how it adds up in a day, kids should do whatever physical activity they find fun.

What is exercise intensity?

The intensity of physical activity can be categorized as light (low), moderate, or vigorous (high). Exercise is physical activity done at a moderate-to-vigorous level of intensity — so that your heart beats faster, you breathe harder, and you sweat. Exercise builds fitness.

One easy way to measure intensity is called the “talk test.” During light-intensity physical activity, a person can carry on a normal conversation in full sentences. During moderate-intensity exercise, a person is able to talk, but not sing. During vigorous-intensity exercise, a person is able to say only a few words or short phrases.

Exercises for kids

Moderate-intensity exercises
  • basketball (shooting hoops)
  • bicycling (5-9 mph)
  • brisk walking
  • dancing (social)
  • Frisbee
  • golf
  • gymnastics
  • housework (vacuuming, sweeping)
  • playground games (climbing, swinging, sliding)
  • roller skating
  • sailing
  • shoveling light snow
  • skateboarding
  • softball
  • surfing
  • swimming (recreational)
  • table tennis (ping pong)
  • volleyball
  • walking a dog
  • walking to class
  • weight training (free weights)
  • yard work
  • yoga
Vigorous-intensity exercises
  • basketball game
  • bicycling (at least 10 mph) outside or on a stationary bike
  • Boston Children's fit kit circuit
  • cross-country skiing
  • dancing (high energy)
  • field hockey
  • football
  • handball
  • hiking/backpacking
  • ice hockey
  • kickboxing
  • jumping jacks
  • jumping rope
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • lacrosse
  • martial arts (karate, judo, tae kwon do, Jiu-jitsu)
  • racquetball/squash
  • rock climbing
  • roller hockey
  • running
  • shoveling heavy snow
  • sledding
  • soccer
  • step aerobics
  • swimming laps
  • wrestling

Using the Boston Children’s fit kit, kids learn these messages to develop healthier fitness and exercise habits. Follow the links below to learn more about the main messages for exercise, including vigorous-intensity exercise.

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Exercise 60 minutes every day

Learn more
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Include vigorous-intensity exercise 3 or more days a week

Learn more

Quiz: Exercise intensity Q&A

What does this word mean?

Aerobic exercise: sustained physical activity that increases heart rate and breathing to supply working muscles with oxygen. The Boston Children’s fit kit encourages aerobic exercise, done with sufficient effort and intensity, to improve or maintain cardiorespiratory fitness.

Exercise intensity: how hard a person is working during physical activity or while exercising. It can be measured using the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale or “talk test.” 

  • Light-intensity physical activity: Heart rate, breathing, and sweating are not noticeably elevated above rest; person is able to carry on a conversation with full sentences; RPE is 1-4 on a scale of 0-10.
  • Moderate-intensity exercise: Heart rate, breathing, and sweating are slightly elevated above rest; person is able to talk but not sing; RPE is 5-6 on a scale of 0-10.
  • Vigorous-intensity exercise: Heart rate, breathing, and sweating are significantly elevated above rest; person is able to only say a few words or short phrases; RPE is 7-8 on a scale of 0-10.

Fitness: the body’s ability to support exercise at a level associated with good health. While there are several elements of overall physical fitness, the Boston Children’s fit kit focuses mostly on aerobic fitness, or the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Aerobic, or cardiorespiratory, fitness often is measured using the progressive aerobic cardiovascular endurance run (PACER) test in schools and after-school programs.

Interval training: method of exercise conditioning that involves alternating bursts of vigorous-intensity exercise to maximal, all-out effort (30 to 60 seconds) with periods of lighter activity or rest. The Boston Children’s fit kit circuit is a form of interval training that includes a variety of different exercises.

Physical activity: any bodily movement. Physical activity often is categorized as aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening. Many activities fall into more than one category. For example, running and jumping rope are aerobic activities that also strengthen bones. Weight- bearing sports like gymnastics, or playing on playground equipment, can fall into all three categories.

Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale: method to measure exertion based on how hard a person feels he or she is working. The scale ranges from 0 to 10, where 0 means “rest” (such as sitting) and 10 means “maximal, all-out effort” (such as all-out sprinting).

Strength training/strength exercises: exercising against resistance to increase muscle and/or bone strength. Your own body weight — or weights or elastic bands — can be used for resistance. Several of the aerobic exercises in the Boston Children’s fit kit circuit also are good for building strength.

Talk test: method to measure exercise intensity based on ease or difficulty talking