Voted the top pediatrician in Northern Michigan according to MyNorth’s annual ‘Red Hot Best’ competition (click to read the whole line-up of top-notch pediatricians) Dr. David S. Olson of Traverse City answered some of our questions on healthy exercise habits for Northern Michigan kids. As the father of three healthy grown-ups (two of whom will be running the 2014 Chicago Marathon in the fall), Olson has wrestled with keeping his own kids—not to mention his young patients—active and healthy during their childhoods.

At what age should children start exercising, as opposed to just horsing around? Are there any growth or developmental issues that parents should be aware of when it comes to their kid’s exercising?

Kids should start exercising in a playful way as soon as they can walk. This should involve daily movements—organized or not—that are fun and get them breathing harder and their heart rates to climb up a bit. This early exposure will help instill exercise as a part of life that is as important as eating or sleeping.

Before kids hit puberty, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends restrictions on lifting weights and differentiates between weight lifting (large amount of weight and low reps) and strength training (lifting light free weights with high reps). Weight lifting should be supervised during puberty, and strength training can be done before puberty.

Children are pretty energetic and active as it is—why is supplemental exercise important for kids?

Kids by nature have a lot of energy, and move around if given the chance. Too many children are living with parents who don’t exercise regularly and have sedentary habits that result in their children just hanging around and not getting the amount of exercise that is needed.

Any tips for getting a couch potato off the sofa, outside, and not back onto the couch after 5 minutes? How do you keep children excited about exercise?

Children thrive on tangible incentives, something they can touch and feel. The notion of exercise for their health without something tangible attached to it is foreign to them. Give your kids some incentives. Let them do things that are fun to them, not what you want them to do. Incentives could include more time to do screen activities, special trips to places of interest, or even in some extreme situations of obesity—that is clearly health-threatening in older kids—financial incentives.

Is there such a thing as too much exercise for children?

Is is hard to imagine kids doing too much exercise, in usual circumstances. The weight lifting issue is something I get concerned about when kids are started too early. Let kids exercise and play until they are tired. Except for cases of obsession regarding the need for constant exercise, it’s hard to do too much, as long as the exercise doesn’t interfere with other important activities such as school and family.

How important is it for parents to set the bar for their kids?

Parents are the role models of kids, especially in the pre-teen ages. Kids will model their lives after parental activities, so a kid with couch potato parents will be apt to follow this path. Encourage your children to exercise by being a shining example to them by being active yourself.

Contact Dr. Olson at the Grand Traverse Children’s Clinic at or by calling 231.935.8892.

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