Children are more sedentary than ever, watching television and playing video games instead of biking to the playground or playing kickball in the backyard with their pals is a major cause. And even schools have stopped emphasizing fitness, in some school districts, physical education has vanished completely because of under-funding.
Kids need regular exercise to build strong bones and muscles. Exercise also helps children sleep well at night and stay alert during the day. Such habits established in childhood help adolescents maintain healthy weight despite the hormonal changes, rapid growth and social influences that often lead to overeating. And active children are more likely to become fit adults.
As childhood has become more sedentary, children have put on weight — lots of it. In the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of children with type 2 diabetes, a disease once limited to sedentary, overweight adults.
You do have the power to give your children a lifelong appreciation for activities that strengthen their bodies.
Follow these tips to keep your kid active:
#1 Set a good example
If you want an active child, be active yourself. Take the stairs instead of the elevator and park the car farther away from stores. Never make exercise seem like a punishment or a chore. Find fun activities that the whole family can do together, such as:
Walks with the family dog
Hide & Seek
If mom and dad exercise, it’s a very powerful message for a child to exercise. In addition to getting active, exercising together gives you good family time. The goal is to get kids moving, whatever the activity.
#2 Limit ‘Screen Time’
There are a lot of reasons why children are less active today, but the biggest culprit is the television set, followed closely by video games and computers, these activities encourage a sedentary lifestyle by limiting movement for long periods of time.
Watching television is directly related to childhood obesity. Children who watch more than five hours of television a day are eight times more likely to be obese than are children who watch less than two hours of television a day.
A surefire way to increase your children’s activity levels is to limit the number of hours they’re allowed ‘screen time’ each day. When children are bored they find things to do.
#3 Promote Activity, not Exercise
Of course sports and other organized activities are a great way to keep your kid moving however, kids don’t have to be in sports or take dance classes to be active. Every kid is wired differently. We all have certain strengths and characteristics that permit us to do certain things better than others. Many noncompetitive activities are available for a child who isn’t interested in organized athletics.
The key is to find things that your child likes to do. For instance, if your child is artistically inclined, go on a nature hike to collect leaves and rocks that your child can use to make a collage. If your child likes to climb, head for the nearest neighborhood jungle gym or climbing wall. If your child likes to read, then walk or bike to the neighborhood library for a book.
#4 Start Young
Remember your energetic toddler? Direct that energy into a lifelong love of physical activity. By incorporating physical activity into our children’s lives at an early age, you are setting the foundation for good fitness habits in the years to come. For instance, have your child show you how bunnies hop, eagles fly or dogs wag their tails.
Some other suggestions for keeping kids interested:
Play games your elementary school child loves, like tag, cops and robbers, Simon says and red light, green light. If you don’t remember the rules for these games, make up your own or walk to your local library and check out a book on games.
Let your toddlers and preschoolers see how much fun you can have while being active. Don’t just run with them. Run like a gorilla. Walk like a spider. Hop like a bunny. Stretch like a cat.
Plan your family vacations around physical activities — hiking, biking, skiing, snorkeling, swimming or camping. Take along a ball or Frisbee disc to sneak in some activity at rest stops.
Make chores a family affair. Who can pull the most weeds out of the vegetable garden? Who can collect the most litter in the neighborhood? Have your kids help shovel the snow off the driveway and use that excess snow to build a huge snow fort.
Vary the activities. Let each child take a turn choosing the activity of the day or week. Batting cages, bowling and restaurant play areas all count. What counts is that you’re doing something active as a family.