The World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”1 Health has many determining factors, such as social, economic, and physical environment as well as the person’s individual characteristics and behaviors. Where a person lives, the state of the environment, genetics, income and educational levels, and relationships with friends and family all impact health.2

A high level of health-related physical fitness improves the quality of life and lowers the risk of illness for children. Health-related components of physical fitness include muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, joint flexibility, and body composition.3

Muscular strength is the ability of the body to exert a maximum force against an object external to the body in one maximum effort using the body’s muscles. Children do much to enhance their physical strength by engaging in daily active play. Running on the playground, jumping on trampolines, climbing trees, and riding bicycles provide good exercise that increases children’s strength.4

The ability of a muscle group to sustain contractions over an extended period of time is called muscle endurance. Rock wall climbing, tug-of-war, and wrestling are examples of continuous tension activities that require the muscles to remain contracted for an extended amount of time.5

Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the heart, lungs, and vascular system to supply oxygen during sustained physical activity. Aerobic activities that increase the heart rate and are maintained for at least 15 minutes, such as running, riding a bicycle, and swimming, are good activities for children. Anaerobic exercise, which is high-intensity exercise of short duration, such as playing tag or ball games at recess, does not depend on the body’s ability to supply oxygen, but this exercise also improves cardiovascular endurance. Both contribute to a healthy heart, lungs, and vascular system.6

Joint flexibility is the ability of the various joints of the body to move through their full range of motion. Active children are constantly bending, twisting, turning, and stretching their bodies as they engage in play. Lack of activity, especially in later childhood and adolescence, often diminishes the child’s flexibility and range of motion.7

Body composition is the proportion of lean body mass to fat body mass. Obesity is at epidemic levels for children and youth and lessens their ability to effectively engage in many physical activities, which impacts their overall health.8 Childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades, and today, nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. Overweight children will likely suffer from obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma, at some point in their lives.9

The psychological health of children can be severely affected by many factors that impact their mental and social well-being. Overweight children often endure prejudice, ridicule, and rejection from other children as well as from adults. This can lead to depression, low self-esteem, negative self-image, and withdrawal from others.10 Victims of bullying by peers can have many health-related consequences, such as headaches, stomach aches, depression, misplaced aggression, and difficulty with relationships and academics. Bullies themselves also suffer from their socially unacceptable behavior and are in desperate need of positive, pro-social role models.11

It has been determined that people who have higher education levels and higher incomes generally experience better health. Living in a good physical environment with safe communities, clean air, and healthy workplaces also contribute to good health as well as having a strong supportive network of friends and family. Genetics can determine the likelihood of developing certain diseases. Other factors that affect health include diet choices, activity levels, drinking alcohol, smoking, and coping with life’s stresses.12

  • 1. “WHO definition of Health.” World Health Organization. < > 1 Oct. 2010.
  • 2. “The determinants of health.” World Health Organization. < > 1 Oct. 2010.
  • 3. Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. Developmental Physical Education for All Children. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003. p. 83.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 84.
  • 5. Mercer, Lisa. “What Is Muscular Endurance?” < > 30 July 2010.
  • 6. Op. cit., Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. pp. 86-87.
  • 7. Op. cit., Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. pp. 87-88.
  • 8. Op. cit., Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. p. 88.
  • 9. “Learn the Facts.” Let’s Move! <> 1 Oct. 2010.
  • 10. Frost, Joe L., Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, Candra D. Thornton. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2004. p. 35.
  • 11. Bossenmeyer, Melinda. “Why Bullying Programs Succeed or Fail.” Peaceful Playgrounds. < > 3 Sep. 2010.
  • 12. Op. cit., “The determinants of health.”