How Should Children Exercise?

People often write in with questions about raising kids Primally. And you might find this surprising, but the plurality of kid-related questions I receive pertain to exercise. Not food – though I do still receive a lot of questions about feeding kids Primal food, I guess people are finally realizing that babies don’t have to be weaned with grain mushes and that kids can actually thrive on the foods their parents eat – but fitness. So I’ll go through two of the most common queries, paraphrased, and answer them, then follow up with my recommendations for ideal – but totally achievable and realistic – kid fitness.

But first, let’s go over the dire situation we currently face. Kids are not very active. They are fatter, more sedentary, and more unhealthy than the previous generation of kids. Whereas in 1969 42% of American children walked or biked to school, just 16% did so in 2001 (and I imagine the number has decreased since then). This isn’t me crowing about the good old days of kids walking uphill backward and barefoot in freezing snow to school while the blazing hot sun paradoxically burns overhead and having to stop along the way to haul hay bales and fistfight bullies all while doing arithmetic without calculators and researching term papers without the Internet (although let’s face it – those were good times). These are incontrovertible facts, confirmed via empirical evidence and by counting the number of kids you see with noses buried in iPads. Preschoolers are sedentary (even during outdoor playtime), children from low socio-economic households are sedentary (PDF), teens are sedentary, and don’t get me started on those lazy infants.

And the evidence is pretty clear that active kids and teens become active adults, while sedentary kids and teens become sedentary adults. If that’s true, the next generation of adults is going to be more sedentary than the current group unless you guys – the parents – do something about it. Notice that I said nothing about the government stepping in. They can make recommendations (the same ones they’ve been making for decades to little effect), but it comes down to you. Are you going to start walking and exercising and playing so that your kid follows your example and maintains interest in movement from an early age? Because that’s what it’s going to come down to. It’s not even a big deal. Kids love to move. They are born with the desire and innate drive to move throughout the world, climbing and lifting and throwing things. We stifle that with our chairs and school schedules and passive modes of entertainment, but the drive to move is there. This isn’t an obese diabetic with bad knees you’re trying to motivate. This is a kid brimming with kinetic energy who will engage in intense activity, given the chance. Take advantage of that and give it!

Okay, now that the ugly stats are out of the way, let’s get to the meat.

Does lifting weights stunt growth?

Everyone’s heard that kids who lift weights will suffer stunted growth. When Carrie and I were having kids, it was even the official recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that children not be allowed to strength train, with the justification being it would damage growth plates and retard bone growth (and thus height). Before we examine the evidence, let’s talk about growth plates. What are they, exactly?

At either end of “long bones” (bones that are longer than they are wide) are epiphyseal plates, also known as growth plates. A bone grows at the ends and as it does, the growth plates are constantly in flux. The chondrocytes are always dividing to produce more and newer bone, and this renders the “energy-absorbing capability” of the growth plate “lower than that of bone, ligament, or tendon.” In growing kids, the growth plates are more susceptible to injury than ankles or other common areas of injury because they will “fail first.” About 85% of people with growth plate injuries enjoy normal, uninterrupted growth, but the potential for interrupted growth nonetheless exists.

That being said, no research has ever shown that weight training actually stunts growth in youth. In fact, just like adults who lift, kids who lift enjoy stronger bones (which extends into adulthood), increased lean mass, improved insulin sensitivity, and overall better health. A recent review (PDF) of all the epiphyseal injury literature found that the bulk of epiphyseal injuries occur on the football field, and that of the injuries attributed to weight training, 7.4% were epiphyseal. Of “all sports,” 10% of injuries were epiphyseal. The takeaway from the review is that growth plate injuries can occur in any sport, not just weight training (and even there, it’s not as heavily represented).

So, you see, the answer isn’t as simple as “yes” or “no.” Weight training with excessive loads, improper technique, and/or poor programming can lead to epiphyseal growth plate injuries, just as they can and do lead to general injuries in weight lifting adults, but so can football hits, snowboarding accidents, and bike mishaps. Injury can happen anywhere and in any activity. I’d even argue that because strength training takes place in a controlled environment – no bodies flying at you from across a field, no split-second decisions, no quick movements in either direction, just you and the weight – it is safer than many other forms of childhood physical activity. The evidence (what little there is) seems to support this contention.

If your child is going to lift weights, get the kid’s form dialed in and checked by an expert. Have him or her lift for higher reps and lower weights; no heavy singles or five rep maxes until later adolescence, when the growth plates have closed. Lift with your child, and don’t let them lift alone. If enthusiasm gets the better of them and they try to go for a max and you’re not there to supervise, bad things could happen.

Can kids benefit from regimented programs like Primal Blueprint Fitness?

Potentially. Fitness programs are only necessary because physical activity is no longer required for survival. I have to make the decision to go for a walk or a hike because I no longer have to walk to get food or water. I lift heavy things in the gym because I no longer have to do manual labor or hunt animals to live. All exercise programs are replacements for once-compulsory activity that’s no longer compulsory. Of course, I’d argue that activity is compulsory, but not in the sense that most people mean it. Being a couch potato won’t kill you today. It’ll kill you down the line.

However, if your kid is naturally active, a highly regimented program isn’t really necessary. Strict programs will help kids who have “forgotten” how to play and move around.

PBF’s movements are perfect for younger kids because they focus on manipulation of their own bodyweight. Even the most strident naysayer of youth weight lifting would admit that kids are equipped to safely move their own bodyweight.

My “Guidelines” and Recommendations

Here’s what I’d do if I had to raise a Primal kid all over again and I wanted them to become a healthy, active, strong human. These are my soft guidelines and recommendations.

Provide Ad Libitum Play

Play must be the foundation. Play is fun, and the way kids play is usually active. You let kids play, then, and they’ll do so by moving their bodies and exploring the world, and this will create a powerfully positive association with movement and physical activity. Then, if you want to introduce something more regimented later on, they’ll be more open to it. But play must always form the basis of children’s movement.

Many adults can get away with grueling workouts as the basis of their leisure time (not me), but kids cannot.

Focus on Form and Technique

Untouched, unmarred kids will generally show pretty good – maybe flawless – form when squatting and lifting things. They’re bendy and flexible and mobile and their connective tissue hasn’t hardened or stiffened up from misuse or disuse. Thus, if you can instill excellent form and make sure they maintain that form from an early age, they’ll be set for life.

Most exercise injuries come from bad form and technique. If you want to avoid those dreaded growth plate injuries, whether your kids are weight lifting, doing plyometrics, running, playing sports, or just playing, focusing on form is essential.

Keep “Workouts” Short and Snappy

Don’t linger too much on one exercise. Instead of putting your six year old on Starting Strength for toddlers, work the movements into everyday life so your kid gets short bursts of activity. Bust out with squats in the middle of a walk to school. Do some Grok crawls down the produce aisle. Sprint to the stop sign. Pick up every rock you find on your hike, making sure your kid displays a proper hip hinge every time (this is a good way to cement excellent form for both parent and child).

When you do a workout, keep things moving. Don’t prescribe specific reps and sets every single time you exercise.

“Disguise” Your Workouts

Instead of five founds of Grok crawls, box jumps, and pullups, set up an obstacle course in the front yard or at the park. Tunnels that you have to crawl through, cones that you have to jump over, and a tree that must be climbed. Let kids be kids and keep things fun.

Push sports, but don’t put too much pressure on your kid, especially by focusing obsessively on one sport or activity to the detriment of overall general development.

Pressure breeds resentment and kills enjoyment. While an adult weight lifter going for a max deadlift probably benefits from his workout partner (read: peer) screaming in his ear to “Pull!”, a ten year-old kid isn’t going to get better at free throws because his dad (read: parent, authority figure) screamed at him to do so. You’re trying to organically foster enthusiasm for movement, sport, and fitness, and you do that by letting the kid discover his own path and being there to nudge him in the right direction when asked.

Get baseballs, soccer balls, footballs, and basketballs. Your kid should play the sport your kid wants to play, not the one you wished you could play.


You’re not a coach. You’re the parent. Join in with your kid. Use him or her as a weight. Wrestle with them. Go outside with them. Race them. Climb trees with them. I see parents at playgrounds staring at their phone while kids play, often alone, and I shake my head at the missed opportunity. Get in there and play too!

Buy a small kettlebell for your kid. Make some sandbags, clubbells, and slosh tubes in adult and kid sizes.

Let The Climb Stuff

Trees, pullup bars, ropes, fences. If you can, see about installing a pullup bar or rope climb at your place of residence. Have that kid climb on that thing as much as possible as soon as those opposable thumbs are functioning.

Let Them Jump Onto and Off of Stuff

Kids fall, a lot. Teaching them how to launch themselves into the air and handle themselves while there will help avoid many of the potential downsides of the inevitable descent. It may even lower the incidence rate of accidental falls, and it will certainly improve their ground-foot interfacing skills.

Let Them Balance on Stuff

Balance is an essential skill that will pay dividends down the line, in both everyday life and athletic endeavors. Simple planks of wood laid out in the yard make for a safe, effective balance beam. This will also make expert maneuvering of the cracks in the sidewalk (and avoidance of maternal lumbar fractures) possible.

Let Them Swim

Swimming is a valuable skill that will stay with your child for life. It’s like flying. At least, that’s how I saw it when I was a kid.


Kids do dangerous things as a rule. They ride skateboards and make jumps. They climb trees and fall from them – sometimes on purpose to “see what happens.” They play football, get in scuffles, and make hairpin turns at breakneck speeds while dribbling a ball (with either hands or feet). Sports are dangerous, sure, but so is just about anything you do involving your body and the laws of physics. Let them figure it out. You’ll be there if something goes wrong.

It basically boils down to this: get kids moving and balancing and playing early, get them strong, mobile, and agile, and you’ll improve their ability to handle their own body in a dangerous world, thus reducing the chance that any serious injury will occur. And just like you never forget how to ride a bike or swim once you’ve learned it as a child, a kid who is active from the start will never lose that ability – or desire – to move as an adult.

That’s about the best gift you can give your child, if you ask me. (And in case you didn’t notice, all those guidelines are pretty effective for non-kids, too.)

So, parents and everyone else, what do you think?

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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83 thoughts on “How Should Children Exercise?”

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  1. Having two (pretty hyper) twin boys, exercise (just informal) was a necessity when they were younger – for all our sakes. Then they went through a period where it got hard to motivate them and we had to ‘disguise’ it. Now they are older (11) suddenly the team/competitive thing has come out and we’re all over the place at practices and games. It’s been interesting to watch that progression.

    Oh and swimming is a lifeskill, IMO. Exercise yes, but an essential skill too.

    1. Oh, and I forgot to say that we have a pullup bar in our kitchen and it has been amazing seeing the kids use it. Wish I was half as good.

  2. I try to keep my kids active. They are ages 8 and 5.

    Both are soccer players by choice. The three of us spend a lot of time actively playing soccer together in the front yard – not just kicking the ball around but playing games. They play pick up with friends too. It gives them the chance to play without pressure of yelling parents and the normal pressures of team sports.

    They both ride bicycles. We’ve never bought a motorized riding toy in our house and plan to maintain that despite the appearance of electric scooters in our neighborhood. They ride around our house, in our neighborhood and on trails at local parks.

    Both learned to swim at a fairly young age and are independent in the pool.

    They still spend time at the playground both at school and the park – climbing, jumping and running. Tag, and hide and go seek are still played. (I’ll jump in occasionally for tag.)

    I plan to involve them this spring and summer in home food growing – which will involve at time carrying heavy bags, tools and digging in the ground.

    So I think they are covering a range of activities – moving slow, sprints, structured, unstructured, upper body and lower body!

  3. This is great, Mark. On the flip side, I try to exercise like a kid would. Good, old-fashioned play is soul food. 🙂

  4. I love playing with my girls. We roughhouse a fair bit and I love to use them as “weights”. Our oldest is a little fearful of moving quickly but loves doing pullups (assisted, of course) and other more static movements. Our youngest is just fearless at this stage. I so love playing with them. It’s one of the greatest joys in life.

    1. Oops! I should have written that my daughters are 5 and 2 years old. 🙂

      1. Yeah I had a chuckle about that one, mind you took me a moment to get it.

  5. Just bought a 25′ 1.5″ rope that I’m hanging in a backyard tree, for the kids (6 & 8) & well me too! We also have a trampoline that they love & med too.
    We set up hurdles in the yard & have races. Trying to keep them off the couch & active as much as possible.

    1. I also love doing Turkish Get-ups with one of them wrapped around my arm, they love having me hold them above my head with one arm, while they hang on. We also see who can do the most pull-ups, where my arms are the pull-up bars & they each grab on & go for it.

    2. Ha! When my 4-year-old girl is ON the couch is when she just about her most active: climbing, leaping, jumping and balancing. Not to mention heavy work with fort building as she deconstructs the cushions.

  6. We love this kind of stuff in our house! We usually have to try to channel the boys energy some how…which turns into wrestling matches on the living room floor, climbing play structures at the park and we love obstacle crosses in the front yard!!

    Just like for adults it should be about Play!! 😛

  7. I have been wondering how to do this when I have kids. I work with kettlebells and happy to see them mentioned, though I’d go with a much less intense session like Enter The Kettlebell’s Program Minimum. A swing and a get-up instead of the Rite of Passage.

  8. Great post. I would add: never utter the words, “Don’t run…” And don’t let them watch TV or play on the computer when the sun’s out.

  9. I get my kids to bench, deadlift and squat twice their bodyweight 5×5 everyday, or else its no desserts for them!

    1. Unfortunately rewards are the enemy of activity. I do applaud you for having them lift heavy weight though. Just be careful to not spoil intrinsic motivation with the reward. Feeling great is a good enough reward anyway. Don’t you think?

  10. My mother calls ages 18 months to 7 years the Age of Running. Why walk when you can sprint from one place to another? I’m trying to sprint whenever my 3 year old sprints. It adds up!

    1. I think that’s a great way to exercise with your kids! When I have kids, I’ll give it a try.

  11. My dad always told me to “have a fall plan,” then turned me loose up a tree, in the woods, through creeks, or in a playground (I suspect he was trying to scare the other parents with that one). I had no injuries worse than a single mild sprain until I started practicing martial arts at 17, still never a break or fracture, and my peers are surprised by how confident, agile, curious, and functionally strong I am. I still climb trees, run through and along creeks, ignore trails, and scare parents at the playground. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to test my limits as a kid and learn what I could do.

  12. Taking young kids to almost any park pretty much covers everything mentioned above. Making the primal on the playground video for last years primal fitness entry showed me how much could really be done. Dancing is a good one for kids too!

  13. My kids adored tree climbing (and still do, aged 26 and 30!), as the videos showed I did – although I don’t think I could have filmed a 30ft tree-climb happily, as my mother did. My kids had one rule, if you climb up, you have to climb down! They never got stuck, although I rescued (talked down) several friends’ kids.

  14. Love this! I’ve got my first little one in my belly right now (expecting in 7 weeks!) and this mirrors my philosophy. Thanks for hammering it home! 🙂

  15. I don’t know if swings are good exercise but I couldn’t get enough of it when I was young.

    1. Swings are wonderful full body/core movements. Also strong input for the sensory kiddos

  16. I have 4 boys and 1 girl. We have a basketball hoop, climbing rope, pull up bar, bikes, scooters, swing set, climbing tree, more sports balls than I could count, and a punching bag. Our kids love to play ultimate frisbee and soccer. We have a huge park behind our home and we use it all the time.

    I believe that free play is the best exercise for kids. I’m not really the “play date” kind of mom and I think it has been good for my kids to have the freedom to move whenever and however they wanted.

    I have honestly been worried about weight lifting for my kids, so thanks for putting my fears to rest. But I still think I might try to put it off as long as I can! I really, really like unstructured play-as-exercise for my clan.

  17. You’ve got my wheels turning Mark – my kid is only a few months old but I think like most dads with a son – they have plans for EPIC journeys and adventures with their boy! Mines the only boy in the family so the in-laws have already decided he will be hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, etc….and hopefully if dad can get healthy with PB, he can keep up! My wife’s side of the family are not the lazy type so the bike trip last year through the NC mountains was a little tough for me. This year I’m on PB so hopefully when my son is older dad won’t be worn out after a one mile (practically straight up the mountain) hill climb. Good read Mark!

    1. Let’s not stereotype too strongly. My parents owned their own business and worked 7 days a week when I was a kid. I’m a female, but I would have LOVED to go fishing or camping. Alas, my dad was a science teacher and most definitely a “city” guy. I wouldn’t have wanted to hunt back then, and I probably still don’t. But I’d be happy to try my hand at cleaning and cooking whatever someone who *did* hunt brought home!

      Anyway, don’t leave your daughters out of the epic journeys! We like to play in the great outdoors too!

    2. Great job even agreeing to go on the bike ride. NC mountains are no joke on mountain bikes. You should be proud of yourself and just keep going.

  18. You’re bringing back some great memories, Mark!

    I remember growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, running around outside with friends until well-past dark, playing flashlight tag, backyard football, swimming in the local pool, and about anything else where we could get out our extra energy.

    No kids for my wife and me at the moment, but in light of today’s childhood obesity epidemic, and so many societal factors toward a sedentary lifestyle, it’s easy to forget about kids’ need to play until someone points it out-as you just did.

    Thanks for the great post.

  19. can’t imagine “sedentary” kids, you would have to tie mine on to keep them still! they are super active, very sporty and will eventually Crossfit….we are just trying to be good role models for them but they don’t really need much encouragement, they are naturally energetic on their own 🙂

  20. “This will also make expert maneuvering of the cracks in the sidewalk (and avoidance of maternal lumbar fractures) possible.”

    I see what you did there Mark. lol

    1. You should have seen the stuff my brothers and I did as kids. We grew up in the country, and my grandfather had a (then defunct) sheep farm. We spent a lot of time running around in pine trees and sheep runs all by ourselves. Grandpa was never worried about us for some reason, and I only got injured once – but that was more the dirt bike’s fault. 😛

  21. I think encouraging the parents to get out there should be its own separate subtopic. Face it: kids mimic those present in their lives, and if their parents are being lazy slobs, it’s no surprise the kids might probably be the same.

    Like they always say, the apple doesn’t fall far into the couch and eat a whole pizza in one sitting (something like that)

  22. I have a 12 year old daughter who LOVES to climb trees and swim. Right now she’s not as active in the evenings because I haven’t been. That’s changing because we’re walking together. This kid is very active during her school day as I’m always hearing stories of what she’s been up to.

  23. Does anyone have an opinion on kids drinking coffee? My (mostly primal & very athletic) 13 & 14 yr olds love coffee in the morning. And otherwise eat & drink really healthy. I personally have always felt it was fine, but just wondering what you guys think. Thanks!

  24. …and KIDS do dangerous things! I was swinging my kids around (they loved it, “just one more time Daddy”, when one of MY discs ruptured. It took me out of work and training for many weeks. That said I really wish I had spent much more time playing with them as Mark advises instead of “babysitting” watching over them, making sure they don’t hurt themselves. It’s too late for me, don’t let the time slip by for you.

  25. Great article. My boys are young adults, and grew up without the Internet on a farm. We had huge piles of boulders scattered around the farm which were turned into cubbies, pirate ships and hiding places. Unstructured play is so important to exercise the mind as well as the body. Too often these days I think kids are directed in how they should play, through preschools and long day care, and micro management of nearly every aspect of their lives, when what they need is a bike, a paddock full of boulders and trees and a sandpit

    1. I agree with the micro management of Play time! I’m a PE teacher and have to do more structure than I’d like -but as much as I can get away with it, I take the kids outside with a few activity choices and tell them “go play”. The kids in the grade level who are new to me have a very difficult time with this. Constantly wanting me to tell them how to play, if someone was “out” or not, etc. I tell them it’s their game so they need to figure these things out on their own- of course we’ve already learned the basics so it’s up to them to play as the group wants. My co teacher sees this as me having a lazy day- I honestly think its the most important thing I teach them. By the time they’ve experienced a couple of these free days, they are constantly begging for them. It’s like free play is a new concept they’ve never experienced before.

      1. Andi, you are a hero! Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting the kids play! I think a ton of kids lose their desire to be active when faced with a P.E. class that only “plays sports,” some of which they may not be good at! I was a super-active, healthy, running, bike-riding, tree-climbing kid, but put me in a P.E. class with a basketball, and I froze. Your approach sounds fantastic.

      2. Hooray! Seriously a hero. Those kids will remember you and remember those days the rest of their lives. I will be forever grateful to the teacher at my elementary school who advocated for us to be able to play in the woods at the edge of our playground during recess. We ran, climbed, built forts, waded through the big gully and even worked together with the boys to build a bridge out of sticks and logs across it. So much good movement and so many foundational memories. When I think about what I learned in elementary school, those half-hours of free play always rise to the top.

      3. That reminds me of Jr. High- our PE coaches told us the rules, then let us do our own thing. We didn’t get into trouble unless we couldn’t agree on how to cheat. 🙂 I think they were just happy to get us moving and running.

  26. Excellent article. As stated, “growth plate injuries can occur in any sport, not just weight training.” I agree, but would like to suggest that if proper instruction and guidance is provided to a child that the risk for injury could be eliminated. Weight lifting removes the unknown variables other sports have inherently due to the addition of multiple players, constantly changing movement patterns, and unpredictable terrain. So, if training technique is perfected the risk should be zero and the benefit spectacular in terms of improved neuromuscular coordination.

  27. I take my two year old to the gym with me sometimes. His form on lifting is completely perfect. He loves lifting medicine balls, he looks like a mini strongman doing atlas balls, its hilarious.

  28. You are the most bad ass, knowledgeable, inspiring, impressive, motivating,dude on the web. Wow!! I am glad I found your site. You need your own talk show and or reality show! Seriously… not kidding.

  29. This is one of the reasons why I refuse to buy my kids a DS or iPod etc – we are at the hockey rink 4-6x a week between 2 boys practice and games, so that means while one boy is on ice the other three kids have to entertain themselves somehow. While my kids and some of their more energetic buddies run around playing tag/hide and seek/act like crazed people – the other kids (zombies is the code word) are slumped over on the bleachers staring into their preferred gaming system. I don’t get it. Really, it is a sad sad parenting issue.

    1. We caved & bought my 7yr Son a DS for his birthday. He is active and loves playing sports outside, especially with older boys in the neighborhood. Your post made me chuckle. I took my son to watch me play drop-in hockey the other day. It was the first time he has gone with me, so I had him bring his DS along in case he was to get bored, since I remembered getting antsy 25 years ago watching my Dad’s men’s league games. He didn’t play it once. He spent an hour 1/2 climbing the penalty box, climbing the bleachers, shooting his empty water bottle with my extra stick, and watching use play every now and again. When asked if he had fun he said “Definately! When can I skate?” 🙂

  30. Also… there used to be more farm kids – my kids are always outside climbing the fences, “tightrope walking” on their balance beam (a 4×4 mounted on posts!), playing on the bale stacks, shooting pucks in the garage, it’s endless…. and they sleep well at night 😉

  31. I’ve been around enough guys that I wouldn’t let my kids weight lift. Specifically one friend had a group of 6 buddies where one guy quit. All but that one guy stopped growing. My belief is the the body is growing and you’re making it choose between muscle or bones.

  32. Great post Mark…I remember as a child my mother screaming at us to come in and eat. I also remember eating as fast as we could so we could get back outside and play well after dark…and her screaming again to come in and get a bath and get ready for bed. Oh those were the days. At the age of 4 I was waterskiing. I’ve never lost the bug and being just shy of 50 I’m working on excelling at my barefoot waterskiing. Want a rush…ski on your feet. Our son is 22 and grew up on the water as well, waterskiing, kneeboarding, and barefooting. We all as a family performed in a local waterski show. It’s great to be able to do things as a family. Those were great years. One other thing I would suggest is getting rid of your TV. It will be two years in May that we are TV free and WOW it’s been great. If I had to do it all over again I would have gotten rid of it well before our son was born. Cheers. Invest in your food…invest in your health.

  33. I love you Mark Sisson, but PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THIS – Exercise has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss. It’s what one eats. It’s all enzymatic and hormonal. Hubby lost 25 lbs by not eating flour and sugar and eating high fat (animal fat & olive oil & coconut oil which is saturated, not hydrogenized seed oils). I did same and lost 18. Neither of us exercised. In our mid-50s. Our breath (keytones) could have knocked down a moose while we were burning our stored fat. But parents: Don’t feed your kids sugar or flour. You can’t prevent them eating at their friends, or what they eat at school. But try homeschooling in the beginning. You buy the food. ALSO this high sugar / carb stuff messes up their palates (i.e. roof of their mouths) and gives them crooked teeth AND myopia (near-sightedness). In short, if affects SERIOUSLY their bone growth. Look at Weston A. Price’s photos. Read about sugar and myopia on the web. Serious researchers write papers on this. Inuit youth became myopic when they stopped eating their traditional diet. This has been written about also. Exercise is great for many things, but not for losing weight.

    1. To say exercise has nothing to do with weight loss is quite drastic. I’ve had clients lose weight without changing their diets at all, but I wouldn’t say diet has nothing to do with weight loss. While exercise certainly isn’t as powerful as diet, it definitely is helpful and has it’s place.

  34. Oops, it’s ketones, not keytones. Also I agree with Penny about the TV. We raised our kids without TV (til hubby dragged one in when they were 12). Yeah, I since got hooked on NCIS and Human Target and Burn Notice… Life moves on, but for at least early years, no TV is fabulous. We had a bumper sticker which read, “TV-free America: The Environmental Movement of the Mind” — another one I’d see now and then was “Kill Your TV”!!!

  35. Want to add one more thing, about the myopia (near-sightedness): google Pottenger’s cats or google-image it to see about bone growth. Same thing happens in humans: the reason for the myopia is the SOCKETS OF THE EYES. The high sugar high carb affects not just the formation of the MOUTH, but all the bones of the face as well. Weston A. Price would say the bones of the entire body. I ate tons and tons of sugar growing up, night and day. Had appendicitis when I was 12. Also had a weird curved palate (at least it was symmetrically curved!), very crooked teeth, and myopia.

    1. Paula –
      I know about Weston A. Price & all of his studies with dental decay and deformities…but I have not heard of myopia being a cause of high carb / sugar! I wonder if it is reversible? I am 20, and recently started a Paleo/Primal type diet…and when I was 14 my eye sight declined and they told me I had myopia. I’ll have to look more into the research – but do you know of them reversing the near-sightedness? Among many other things, I would love to not have to wear contacts or glasses ever again !

    2. I NEVER ate sugar and I have had myopia since childhood. so look further for the cause.

    3. Don’t remember where I read this, but long before I got pregnant with my son, I read that myopia could be attributed to night lights-something about the developing eye being overexposed to light stimulus would cause overgrowth of the cornea. Both my husband and I are very nearsighted; he grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of streetlights, so his sleeping environment was always well lit; I always had a nightlight on. I was worried that my son was doomed to glasses, so I’ve always been super protective of the darkness in his room, despite pleas for “just a little light!”
      Today, at eleven, he has perfect vision (my husband and I were both in glasses by this age). It has probably helped the he has never liked soda ( and I have certainly never encouraged him to try it!), nor did he ever drink lots of juice. Most of his beverages have been milk and water. (He recently voluntarily stopped drinking milk after I read Loren Cordain’s chapter on dairy to him from his new book, the Paleo Answer. Thank you, Loren!). I did breast feed him until he was five (worried about lots of familial illnesses), so take your pick for what helped. We’re new to PB, just started mid-May this year and he’s facing some challenges as a (former) pasta hound. Oh, and when he started on solids (was not very interested in them until about nine or ten months), we had a tiny little food mill we would take to restaurants and use at home, so much of his “baby food” was ground up portions of whatever we were eating. (If only we’d been primal back then!)

  36. I’d love to know how to motivate two hyper homeschooled kids to spend more time outdoors — especially when it’s cold but not snowy — when I’m partially disabled (I walk with a cane; running and jumping are right out) and can’t play outside with them. Any suggestions?

    1. Even though my kids have always been fairly active, as they grew older it was more difficult to get them to stay outside when it was cold.

      The best way I found was to take them to the park. This way they don’t have the option of going inside if they are bored. If you can find one that has accessible trails for you, a pond, a playground, and maybe a hill for the kids to climb and a few climbing trees, you are set.

      At home, you might consider getting a trampoline with a safety net, lots of bikes, non-electric scooters, and putting a basketball hoop in the driveway. Have soccer balls, basketballs, footballs, and sporting equipment around. Get a climbing rope for a sturdy tree and maybe a tire swing. Let them play with old lumber, hammers, and nails. Mine built a clubhouse on top of their old swingset using an existing platform.

  37. What a fantastic post! It’s so nice to see your emphasis on unstructured play, rather than sports or formal workouts. It seems there is so much pressure for parents to put their kids into scheduled, structured activities, but the reality is, most kids will get all of the exercise they need when left to their own devices in interesting and stimulating outdoor (ideally) environments.

  38. I love to run sprints with my son. We take the dog to the park, find an empty soccer field, & we all let ‘er rip. It’s a blast. We do several rounds of sprints until we’re all sufficiently tired and then take a lovely stroll for 30 minutes or so and throw rocks in the creek, say hello to the ducks, swing on the swings…

  39. For all of the new and expecting parents you can get started during the first few weeks of your child’s life. Get rid of that beautiful crib you just purchased, get them a mattress on the ground and child proof the room. Then put specific objects just out of their reach and start motivating movement from the beginning. There is tons of great research out there validating the impact of early life movement. It impacts almost every area of life. Babies do not need to be caged, they need to have room to explore!

    1. This is an excellent suggestion. I wish that I had considered it when my three children were infants. Perhaps they would have walked sooner than at 15 months. One of them has hypotonia, but is doing amazingly well at Karate and swimming. He tires more easily than other kids due to his muscle tone issues, but is highly motivated to do well at physical exercise and sports.

    2. This! We put our mattress on the floor as well, and let the little guy go pretty much from the start. He was reaching for our dog’s rawhides and climbing over her so soon we couldn’t believe it. There’s a lot of activity even tiny infants can do without waiting for those major milestones if you just give them some space and watch them explore.

  40. Jumping rope used to be a favorite neighborhood activity when I was a kid. You could do it alone or in a group and the cost was and still is minimal and it’s great for fitness. I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of kids outside playing tag, jumping rope, 4-square, hopscotch….

  41. This is an AWESOME write-up, as usual! I found your site a few weeks ago and am hooked. I’ve always had the “gut” feeling about things you wrote about here, this will help me convince my wife that my 3.5 yr old is fine doing the little less-than-bodyweight lifting (with perfect natural form) that he enjoys doing in our home-gym.
    Thanks Mark.


  42. “This isn’t an obese diabetic with bad knees you’re trying to motivate. ”

    That made me laugh pretty hard! I have a nearly-4-year-old and motivating him to move isn’t nearly as hard as motivating him to get strapped into his carseat.

    One thing I’d note is to not just play with your kids, play in front of your kids. I see a lot of parents where it seems like they model physical play as something adults only do with kids, rather than an activity that’s also just for adults. At least with little ones (toddlers, preschoolers) I think it’s healthy to model play that sometimes is beyond their physical capabilities. It gives them a broader view of what play is and gives them something to aspire to.

  43. Thanks for this one Mark. My two girls are incredible active already and were REALLY interested in working out with me. We got a ‘technique bar’ with some light bumper plates so they can train with me. This article and the references to source material are timely and much appreciated!

    ps: The kids told me we’re doing Mt. Whitney this summer together (their idea, not mine) and we’ll go if we can get a permit (I don’t tell them no unless it looks expensive). They’re seven and eight and we all want to do it in Fivefinger shoes! Wish us luck.

    1. Today we started a debate outside Trader Joes. We were buying bacon ends and Kerry butter and salmon and as we left, the girls did what they always do: They climbed and ran down the narrow five foot wall that holds the carts. This natural activity brought colorful comments from some of the other patrons. Half of the folks outside the store were telling me I was a negligent parent and half were giving me high fives. My six year old said to one lady “Can’t you see I’m not fat?!” What she said. 🙂

      1. Greg- spot on with this comment. I have 4 kids, and I can’t tell you how many times in public I’ve been scolded. I let my 2 year old climb up into the grocery cart on his own. I let my kids climb around on the outside of the playground equipment. Climb trees. Jump from high up. Walk nature trails alone. My 4 yr old has more freedom than most 10 yr olds in our neighborhood. Kids love to challenge themselves; and they are amazingly competent, strong and agile. The constant, “no, stop, you’ll get hurt” eventually steals their confident, risk taking abilities.

  44. For the people who have commented that they don’t have kids yet…We have three young girls…4,2, and baby. I really think if you start children young enough they don’t even think of it as “exercise”. Truly at our house it’s play but they are sweaty and breathing hard AND having a blast. We spent 2 hours outside today…running, skipping, crab walking, climbing the dirt pile, throwing walnuts, hanging on a tree branch, running some more. It’s all fun and great exercise. And if you start them young enough they’ll eat primal with no complaint. We made the switch last year and these girls eat meat and veggies and fruit well. The 7 month old can eat salmon with the best of them. It’s all about forming them very early on.

  45. How sad that this needed to be written. No one should have to be taught how to help their kids play!
    Modern technology has far too much to answer for *sigh*
    A friend directed me here because I mentioned my daughter and I spent two hours at a kids park this morning. the kids play park is a kiddy gym, let’s face it!

  46. Thanks! I love this article. We live on 10 acres in the mountains so we have lot’s of opportunity for play. My kids ages 8 and 5 are alpine skiers that both started at the age of 3. They mountain bike, hike, play soccer, right dirt bikes (motorcycles) around our property, etc. We of course have tons of trees, a climbing structure, trails and all sorts of stuff. We do all this stuff together as a family. We have T.V.’s but get no T.V. channels. We have them for movies that we watch on occasion. My kids would prefer being outside over watching T.V., playing video games etc.

    It’s all what we teach our kids, and we want to be that positive example. Not only that, we have a blast together. We don’t have internet on our phones or any of that stuff. It is sad when you go to the park or something and see most mom’s playing on their phones while their kids are running around having a great time. We actually experienced that at Disneyland recently. Waiting in lines, tons of parent’s were messing around on their phones while their kids are trying to get their attention. I felt really bad for those kids.

  47. I’m all for kids being outside playing as much as possible. I am not all so much in favor of joining in the “fun” anymore than I think parents should be held responsible for doing teachers’ work and training kids by doing their homework with them. I’m all for letting them do and experience their lives with limited electronic intrusions.

    As to the comment about government…a government program which allows workers to leave for an hour during the day (presumable an hour before the end) in exchange for being active with their kids WOULD work and would be cost effective in the long run. There are ways to make government and individuals work together for the greater good.

  48. Thanks, this is great! Do you think you could post a picture of the correct way to flex at the hips?

  49. Attractive portion of content. I simply stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to claim that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing on your feeds or even I achievement you get admission to constantly fast.

  50. Irrespective of all scientific research and scholarly debates and all similar matters, my observations of 3 decades have shown that most of the kids in my class, school/college, friends and relatives, other persons I ever came across etc. who took up martial arts, gymnastics, weight lifting, type stressful activities in childhood or before puberty/ adolescence, all remained a few inches shorter in height when compared to their siblings, other persons of their age, general people in society, etc.

    No matter what the reasons are, but I am sure that these weightlifting and martial arts type things before reaching adolescence are the main reason.