Everything you need to know about kids and exercise

Seeking new ways to make playtime fun and active? Think of it as planting the seeds for a lifetime of healthy habits.

When it comes to old-school, analogue playtime, you only need to look at kids on a playground to know that most of them love to move. But did you know that climbing to the top of that slide or swinging from the monkey bars can help lead your kids to live an active lifestyle throughout their lives? When kids are active, their bodies can do the things they want and need them to do. Why? Because regular exercise has loads of benefits.

  • Strong muscles and bones.
  • Weight control.
  • Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
  • Better sleep.
  • A better outlook on life.

Unfortunately, as kids get older, they are often less active. Nearly one in three kids in South Africa watch more than three hours of TV daily and become even less involved in activity as they get to high school. Our aim as adults (and parents) should be to find ways to promote exercise among children so that these healthy habits and behaviours develop early and then continue to adulthood.

How much exercise is enough?

School kids should participate in 60 minutes or more of physical activities a day. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of ”sweaty” exercise at least three times week.

What types of exercise are recommended?

Both endurance (cardiovascular) and resistance exercise are great for children. School playgrounds usually house most of the “equipment” that allows children to boost their fitness and muscle strength. Climbing jungle gyms, pulling go-karts, playing soccer and hanging from the monkey bars are all ways of staying active.

Encouraging our kids to take part in sports at school is one great way of getting them to be active. Allow kids to participate in a variety of activities until they find their niche, where skill and talent meet fun. Don’t forget: as the volume and duration of exercise increases, nutrition and hydration start playing a larger role in making sure your child stays healthy – so if they get a bit too caught up in having fun, remember to pack in a water bottle or an extra fruit in the lunch box.

Most importantly, let them play.

Get your kids moving at Virgin Active


We know life can get a little crazy. And we know that as a parent, it’s hard to find the time to work out when you have children that need your constant attention. That’s when our junior member facility, Club-V, comes riding in on its white horse.

So what’s Club-V all about?

Club-V aims to enhance the growth and development of your child, physically, creatively and socially, in a safe environment.

Basically, there are two kinds: Club-V (for 6 week olds – 7 year olds) and Club V-Max (for 6 week olds – 13 year olds), depending on which club you go to. Both are dedicated indoor play and activity areas where your children can get active through creative, fun, interactive programmes designed specifically for the different stages of their development.

Our staff are fully trained in early childhood development and they have paediatric first aid training so your little explorers are in incredibly capable hands.

The benefits of activeness  

Children have loads of energy so it’s important to keep them moving and using their energy in constructive ways. Exercise will:

  • Help develop your child’s muscles and bones
  • Improve their co-ordination and balance
  • Help keep their weight under control
  • Give them confidence
  • Help them sleep better.

Remember: making your children aware of exercise at this early stage in their lives will help lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy choices.

Club-V will keep little hands and little feet occupied while you get your sweat on. Chat to a staff member for more information.

Healthy lunch box ideas


Making sure your kids eat well during the day is crucial. It’s also super tough. Especially when you don’t have the time to prepare nutritious meals. So we’ve rounded up a bunch of great lunch box ideas that won’t take forever to prepare.


You can’t go wrong with soup, homemade or store-bought. Opt for the vegetable and tomato-based soups rather than the creamy ones.

Baked potato

Bake a potato in the skin, add low-fat cottage cheese, avocado and chopped tomato, or warmed baked beans with a sprinkling of low-fat cheese.

Scrambled eggs

A quick-and-easy protein-packed lunch. Simply whisk one or two eggs together, season and place in the microwave for a few minutes. Check regularly and give a quick stir.

Warm oats porridge

We love breakfast for lunch. Flavoured with cinnamon. Delicious.

Butternut salad

If you are roasting butternut for dinner, make extra and mix it together with feta, tomato and rocket and your choice of pasta, rice or couscous.


Cooked a stew or casserole last night? Pack the leftovers into lunchboxes for a repeat performance.

Remember that a balanced diet is essential to health and fitness, so try and get all of the essential nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fats into your meals.

Breaking a sweat at school

Exercise when you’re a kid is all about hanging off monkey bars, riding bikes with your friends and playing kiss-catch out on the field during break. Then comes adolescence, and all the rules change. One minute, you’re comfortable sporting a one-piece or Speedo and swimming cap, the next, you don’t want to be seen anywhere near the school pool. This especially holds true for girls, who are extremely self-conscious when puberty hits.

This is something to consider when thinking about bringing PT back into the school curriculum. If we’re going to get teenagers excited about PT again, we need to be assuring, understanding and gentle in our approach.

Why PT is important for young people

Simply, it promotes health and fitness. If exercise and activity are part of their lives now, they’re more likely to keep at it as they grow up. Early life experiences and lessons shape who we become. Sure we change along the way, but those fundamentals stay with us.

Encouraging activity and educating kids on matters of health and nutrition is just as important as other forms of education.

Teenagers need to learn the fundamentals of physical activity, healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, and the pitfalls of smoking and drinking alcohol.

What we can do to make PT more attractive to teenagers

The key words here are: fun and variety. Schools should try and offer a range of activities that appeal to not only the ‘sporty’ types, like Yoga, Pilates, dance, even things like fencing and archery. Think Olympic sports. It’s important to keep things interesting.

Let your kids experiment with different activities. Once they find something they love to do, you won’t have to nag them to get off the couch anymore.

Active play, active fun and active teens

Hoola Girl

Virgin Active offers many great ways for kids to be active in a safe and fun environment while you enjoy your training. Younger children can have fun in our unique child care facilities and swimming pools while older children can try out classes and equipment in the gym.

There’s something for all kids at Virgin Active

0-7 year olds

  • Club-V - a fee-based facility where younger kids can take part in fun-filled, supervised activities. Our staff are fully trained in early childhood development and they have pediatric first aid training.
  • Club-V Holiday Camps – beat holiday boredom with supervised arts and crafts, games and group exercises classes.
  • Swimming – little ones can learn to swim with qualified coaches who will teach them water safety, swimming and breathing techniques in one-on-one lessons or as a swim squad. There’s also fun to be had at the leisure pools. (*available at selected clubs).

8-13 year olds

  • Club- V Max - a fee-based facility where kids can enjoy age-specific group fitness activities geared towards developing motor skills and co-ordination. They can also enjoy arts and crafts and interactive games.
  • Group exercise classes – tweens are welcome to join certain classes (Move, Move Lite, Zumba, Groove, Twentyfour Family, Kick and Hip Hop).
  • KAOS - a special exercise class for 8 – 13 year olds that is sports-based and involves ball skills, cardio fitness, core muscle development exercises and obstacle courses.
  • Gym equipment – tweens can hop on indoor cycles, steppers, rowing machines, elliptical trainers and can use the stretch area.
  • Swimming – tweens can train with qualified coaches who will teach them water safety, swimming and breathing techniques in one-on-one lessons or as a swim squad. For a relaxed swim, they can visit the leisure pool too (*available at selected clubs).
  • Internet stations – tweens can surf the web at our internet stations.

14-17 year olds

Teens may use most facilities at the gym:

  • Training floor – cardio, strength, free weights and functional equipment (Power-plate® is only available to over 16s.)
  • Squash courts
  • Swimming pools
  • Sauna and steam room
  • Internet Stations and free Wi-Fi.


For all kids and parents, many of our clubs have an in-house Kauai, where tasty and healthy snacks and meals can be enjoyed.

All children under the age of 14 need to be supervised or accompanied by an adult (except when checked into Club-V, Club-V Max and KAOS classes). 

On the bike, in the water and on the road


Tackling a triathlon can be daunting, even for pro athletes. And if you’ve been training long and hard, you’ve definitely earned some bragging rights (not to mention a super fit body). And if you haven’t ever taken part in an event, but are interested in challenging yourself in this exciting way, we have all the essential information right here.


Cycling has many benefits (cardiovascular fitness – ideal for weight loss – and leg strength, and more). For those training for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, you have about 7 weeks to make sure you are getting out on the road. Tip: myvirginactive has some great training plans to help you prepare for race day right here. 

Now, let’s check your training options at Virgin Active.

Indoor Cycling

Virgin Active have various types of indoor bikes – spinning bikes, upright bikes, recumbent bikes and Wattbikes.

  • The Wattbike would be your first choice as it is best able to replicate outdoor cycling compared with the other bikes. Read more about the Wattbike here.
  • Spinning is very popular and it can be an effective means of improving your fitness on the bike. The classes are hugely motivational due to great instructors, awesome music and the group dynamic so you can often work much harder than if you were on your own.
  • The upright exercise bike is another option which can improve your cycling, although it is different to a road bike set-up. How different?
  • The recumbent exercise bike is the least similar to road cycling and isn’t an ideal training aid for a road race. It has also been shown that heart rate is lower when in the recumbent position compared to the upright position.

Remember: Indoor cycling alone is not sufficient training for a road race. Cycling on the road teaches you important road skills, how to ride in a group, gear selection and more.

For cycling terminology explained, read the full article on myvirginactive.  


Running is one of the best ways to burn calories and lose weight. Anyone starting out running for the first time, or after an extended break, needs to build up gradually so the body can adapt to the stress of running. With that in mind, let’s look at the three different ways of getting your run on.

Treadmills, trails and tar

  • Treadmill running can be a great way for beginners to start out, because you can control your speed and duration in a safe environment. Treadmills are also great for varying your training. The main difference between treadmill and tar? On the treadmill you are keeping up with speed of the treadmill as opposed to propelling yourself forward. Because of this, the recruitment of the posterior muscles (glutes, hamstrings and calves) is reduced so your biomechanics is altered compared to running outdoors. It is for this reason that it is best to limit your amount of treadmill running, but there is definitely a time and place for it. Tip: To make up for the lack of wind resistance when running on a treadmill, set the gradient at 1%.
  • Trail running is usually a bit tougher than running on the road due to uneven ground and it can be hillier. Trail running improves proprioception (awareness of the position of one’s body) and ankle stability, but can also put you at risk for injury due to falling or tripping. Trail running is essential if you are going to be doing any trail races but it is also important if you are a road runner.
  • Tar is one of the hardest surfaces you can run on but it is also usually the most convenient. For beginner runners, it’s easier than trail running, so it’s a good place to start. Tip: Try to stay on the pavements but if there aren’t any, it is best to run against traffic so that you can see any cars coming your way. Read more here.

For in-depth info on the different running shoes available and find the pair that suits you best.

Top running tips

  • Aim to do a minimum of 3 runs a week, but 4-5 will be better – consistency is key.
  • Every week, include one long run and build this long run up by 1-2 kilometers every week. Your longest run should take place 2-3 weeks before your race.
  • Every 4-5 weeks, ensure that you give yourself a recovery or easy week of training to allow the body to adapt to the training load.
  • Alternate hard and easy days of training.
  • Vary the terrains that you train on for all round running fitness and injury prevention.
  • Recovery is important so make sure you are following a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep to maximise your training.


There is absolutely no impact when swimming, so your joints are always protected from the stress and strain acquired from impact activities. Other benefits of swimming?

  • It is a great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, pregnant or elderly, because there is no stress on the connective tissue or joints.
  • Swimming is also a great form of exercise to maintain fitness when you are injured and perhaps not able to participate in impact activities.
  • The resistance of the water makes your muscles work without the strain or impact experienced on land, making it a form of cardiovascular and resistance training.
  • Water’s properties of buoyancy and density allow vigorous exercise in the water with a low risk of injury.
  • Swimming requires the involvement of the whole body in a balanced and integrated way.
  • The force exerted by the water on the body is known as hydrostatic pressure and has many therapeutic benefits.

Top 3 tips for beginners

  • Technique is very important in swimming, which is why fit people who have poor technique really struggle with it. If you would like to improve and really enjoy your time in the water, it’s advisable to see a swimming coach for some sessions to assist you with your technique.
  • Vary your swim sessions to see improvements in fitness and strength, and also to stave off boredom. Include things like drills, kicking, different strokes and intervals (alternating high intensity swimming for certain distances, with rest period in between.)
  • Flippers or fins should be used as a training aid only – often beginner swimmers become completely dependent on them. It is ideal to use them when doing drills, focusing on technique or kicking only. They should never be used for your whole swim session.

Get a full list of essential swimming gear, right here.

Don’t forget about myvirginactive’s amazing triathlon training plans, available to all members.

For those competing this year, good luck. Own it.

Race day tips from a pro

Option 2

By Richard Woolrich

Biokineticist (BSc Med (Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics) UCT
2014 PT of the year

Remember that the session the day before should incorporate short, easy workouts with some bursts of high intensity in two to three of the disciplines. It is often a good idea to do this on the race course to help with familiarisation.

Your dinner the night before should contain predominantly carbohydrate-rich foods, ideally be low in fat and contain a moderate amount of lean protein (grilled chicken served with rice or noodles, tomato-based pasta with lean meat or a baked potato with a low fat filling).

Pack your bag methodically so that you don’t forget anything and you know where everything is.  Use the Athlete Info guide as a checklist to make sure you have everything. If you are an out of towner, than this should obviously be done before you even leave for East London.

On race day, make sure you have a light breakfast consisting of something that you are used to and comfortable with about 1-2 hours before the start of your race.

You need to arrive at the race with plenty of time to set-up your equipment in transition and warm-up. The transition area is open from 5h00-06h30. When you are in the transition area, take note of entrances and exits for the different disciplines as the transition area can be rather confusing.

Ideally, try to do a warm-up in the sea before you start. There is a designated warm-up area to the left of the swim start. But you do need to be out of the water by 06h40.

My top tips for each leg of the race:


  • Swim start – I would recommend trying to avoid starting in the middle of the pack, unless you are a fast swimmer and back yourself to have enough speed to get out of the masses. It is often better to start on the side with a more clear line to the first buoy. If you breathe to the right, I suggest starting on the far left (and vice versa) so that you can see the majority of the pack when you are swimming (this will help ensure you don’t swim off course). Some people may feel more comfortable starting at the back of the pack where they can avoid most of the chaos. This is often a better option so that you don’t get kicked, knocked around or swallow sea water – which can lead to stomach cramping later in the race.
  • Follow the feet in front of you – Remember that swimming in the bubbles of the swimmer in front of you will reduce your overall effort and help keep you on course without lifting your head as often.
  • Keep swimming until your hand touches the ground, then you will be able to stand up and exit the sea. If you are wearing a wetsuit you can start peeling down the top to save some time in the transition.


  • Nutrition – The bike is the easiest discipline during which the body is able to take in and absorb nutrients, so it’s important to start eating as soon as you get on the bike and consistently during the cycle leg. I usually advise my athletes to consume an energy gel during the final couple of kilometres of the bike leg to help fuel them for the first part of the run leg.
  • Cadence – Keeping a high cadence of about 90rpm is especially important if it is windy on race day. Often athletes try to grind out a big gear into the wind which will fatigue your legs and negatively affect your run.


  • First few kilometres – Avoid getting caught up by the cheers of the crowd and starting too hard. Start slow and build up during the race.  See if you can run the second half of the run leg faster than the first half.
  • Cadence – Once again this important. Keep focused on maintaining high cadence throughout the run, especially as fatigue sets in.

Good luck and have fun!