Easy Ways to Encourage Kids to Get Active
Today’s children have many options available when it comes to entertainment and play, many of which involve very little physical activity. We have assembled a list of easy ways to get your child more active while also encouraging fun.
With so many reports on the growing rates of obesity in US children, just about everyone knows it's important for kids to get regular physical activity. What many people aren't quite sure about is how much activity they need and how to go about encouraging kids to get active, especially in a world where electronic devices often rule.
So Just How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?
For preschool-age children and younger, active play is the best exercise.
As young children tend to be on the move, simply getting outside or with other children encourages physical activity. Physical activities for kids in this age group include games like tag and follow the leader, nature walks, going up and down slides, and riding a tricycle.
Experts agree that children 5 to 6 years and older need at least 60 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
The 60 minutes can accumulate over the day: 20 minutes of climbing at the playground, 10 minutes walking the dog, and 30 minutes of soccer would do it. Moderate intensity increases heart rate, breathing and sweating - vigorous activity increases all of these even more. Age-appropriate physical activities include jumping rope, karate, walking, bike riding, dance, playground games, and field and court sports. A variety of activities provides aerobic exercise and muscle- and bone-strengthening as well. To learn more, visit the CDC's website.
What Can Parents Do to Encourage Kids to Get Active?
The best thing parents can do for their children is to be role models themselves and engage in regular physical activity.
The old saying – monkey see, monkey do – really applies here. Experience shows that when parents put emphasis on being active, children do too. And the opposite is true – children of sedentary parents are often sedentary as well. Routine morning walks, bike rides, or trips to the gym, family hikes, send the message that regular physical activity is important.
Setting the Tone Starts at Home
Parents can create a home environment in which getting daily activity is the norm. It's the little things done daily that can shift a family from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one: walking to the mailbox versus stopping by in the car; using a rake to clean up outside instead of a leaf blower; washing the car, rather than going to a carwash; and walking or biking to school, if possible. Even the family dog needs exercise! Parents can also make a point of scheduling a weekly outdoor family activity and let the kids choose what it will be.
Keep It Fun
If it's not fun, it won't get done - at least not for very long! Most physical activity happens during free time, so it should be enjoyable. Paying attention to children's interests and following their lead can help ensure success. Do they prefer group or individual activities? Being a part of a team helps develop muscles and coordination, and can have lots of other benefits. But competitive sports are not for every child – exposing children to a variety of physical activities to see what appeals to them is a good approach. And music helps makes physical activity more fun for adults – children are no different. Whether it's dancing at home or in class, or walking with headphones, it all counts.
Give Positive Feedback and Encouragement
The focus should be on fun and/or progress instead of performance. An informal survey of college athletes over a 30-year period found that the most encouraging words parents said after a game was "I love to watch you play". Parents can modify this phrase to fit – dance, run, or swim - to take any perceived pressure off and encourage their child.
Keep It Local
Taking advantage of what the local community offers is a good place to start. Whether it's a park, recreation center, or neighborhood playground, places that are convenient to get to are key to keeping kids physically active. Even better if families or older kids can walk or bike to them safely.
Provide properly-fitting shoes and equipment to keep children comfortable and safe.
Finally, Limit Screen Time
When electronic media use decreases, time spent outdoors and physical activity increase. The American Academy of Pediatrics newest guidelines take a more general approach and recommend parents set a reasonable limit, keeping in mind a healthy balance of other activities.
It's never too late to start instilling healthy lifestyle habits, and the health benefits are definitely worth it. Hippocrates said it best: "walking is medicine."
American Academy of Pediatrics,https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/fitness/Pages/Energy-Out-Daily-Physical-Activity-Recommendations.aspx. Published 2014, last accessed 11/20/15.
American College of Sports Medicine, http://acsm.org/docs/default-source/brochures/physical-activity-in-children-and-adolescents.pdf, accessed 11/21/15.
Centers for Disease Control, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, How much physical activity do children need? http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm, Page last updated 6/4/15, accessed 11/20/15.