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Parenting is not easy. And, these days, the number of challenges we have to overcome to help keep our kids physically active and healthy seem to grow by the minute. But as childhood obesity continues to rise, we must get more intentional about encouraging, teaching, and supporting an active lifestyle for our children.
As children get older, their physical activity typically starts to decline (1). Which is unfortunate, because physical activity is essential for developing minds and bodies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids involved in physical activity typically:
Maintain a healthy weight
Have higher cognitive performance (memory, focus, concentration)
Develop strong muscles and bones
Tend to be less stressed
Have increased self-esteem
Are more likely to stay physically active throughout adulthood
May be less at risk for disease later in life
Kids need to move! Structured and unstructured play is important for their growth and development. And, keep in mind that the recommended daily guidelines don't necessarily need to be all in once, they can spread across intervals throughout the day (2). Here are the recommendations for each age group:
Ages 3-5: According to Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, preschool-aged children should be active about three hours per day. And, it is recommended that this age group is encouraged to take part in a variety of different types of activities.
Ages 6-17: The US Department of Health and Human Services, via the same Physical Activity Guidelines, recommends that children ages 6-17 should have at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
Sure, it's one thing to know your kids need to be more active, but it's a whole other thing to actually get them moving. So, here are nine ways to make getting active with your kids a bit easier.
Typically, the number one reason why kids take part in physical activity is because it is fun. Generally, at a young age, they are not motivated by the same things adults are motivated by when we engage in exercise (weight loss, achieving a certain physical aesthetic, etc.). It should be play for kids. Encourage them to find activities they love to do and take part in them. And remember, don't be too hard on them. Pushing them too hard or criticizing too much may take the fun out it.
For children involved in team sports, proper attire is a must. Having the right shoes and clothing helps them move better and stay comfortable. This can ensure the sport is more enjoyable, which typically leads to more participation. Encourage use of the new gear by taking them out for a test run—practice soccer with them to test new cleats or a few rounds of hockey passes to get the hang of a new stick.
Not only will creating time for physical activity help improve your family's health but it can improve family bonding and your family's connection with nature. Both of which have a variety of positive benefits. Here are a few ways you can apply it to your own family:
Go camping, hiking, or exploring together
Create an obstacle course and go through it together
Walk to the park and have a picnic
In the winter, go sledding or snowshoeing together
Go on a family bike ride
Go to a roller- or ice-skating rink together
Like we mentioned earlier, small bursts of physical activity throughout the day can be just as effective as a consistent 60 minutes of play. Here are a few ways to sneak activity into their day:
Invite them to walk the dog with you
Take them on an outdoor hike
Bike to the park
Walk to the mailbox together
Park a little further away and enjoy the walk together
Have a dance party in the middle of cleaning
Have them help you with age-appropriate chores
Many experts believe that some media is okay. When used appropriately, media and technology can be a great thing. However, for many families, kids are using media too often. One study found that kids ages 8-18 use electronics almost eight hours a day (3). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3-18 should have a total maximum of two hours per day on all electronics. Here are a few tips to help reduce screen time:
Put limits on the amount of screen time each day
Don't allow electronics during meals
Remove TVs from kids' rooms
Instead of more toys, consider rewarding or gifting your kids with items that require them to be physically active to use. Here are some examples:
Gift cards to trampoline parks, skateboard parks, or play-places in your area
Interactive video games (active Wii games, Just Dance, etc.)
Lessons (dance, gymnastics, indoor rock climbing, etc.)
Little eyes are always watching! If you're a parent, you already know that kids typically follow what you do and don't always listen to what you say. So, be a good example for them! Let them see you being active. Let them see you do it consistently. And, let them hear you speak positively about physical activity.
Activities that are too advanced or complex may be discouraging to a child. As you are helping guide them through their choices, choose activities that are right for their age and skill level. Keep in mind that some children of the same age may be more or less advanced than others.
Activities for ages 3-5-year-olds:
Activities for 6-17-year-olds:
Organized sports (basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc.)
Indoor rock climbing
Kids need proper nutrition to feel good and have the energy required to meet their recommended amount of play each day. While good nutrition isn't an activity in the normal sense, it does support a healthy lifestyle. They should be eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, a mixture of healthy fats, lean proteins, and whole grains, and drinking lots of water. Encourage your kids to take part in meal planning and cooking. The more they can get involved, the more likely they are to support a healthy lifestyle.
For more nutrition information on healthy eating, check out these other ISSA blogs:
Remember, it's good to get active with your kids starting at a young age to build healthy habits. These tips can help you and them maximize the immediate and long-term health benefits of consistent physical activity.
Interested in expanding your knowledge and helping kids improve their health, lives, and love for physical activity? Check out the ISSA's Youth Fitness course.
Farooq MA, Parkinson KN, Adamson AJ, et al Timing of the decline in physical activity in childhood and adolescence: Gateshead Millennium Cohort Study British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:1002-1006.https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/15/1002
Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, et. al., "Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity and All-Cause Mortality: Do Bouts Matter?" ahajournals.org. Journal of American Heart Association. March 2018. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/JAHA.117.007678
Kaiser Family Foundation, "Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds", kff.org. January 2010. https://www.kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/
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