Keeping kids active can be a real challenge, especially when the heat in Arizona climbs into the 90F°+ territory and electronics offer ready entertainment inside our air conditioned homes. But exercise for children is critical for the health and well-being, both in the short term and in the years to come.
1. Lead by Example
One of the biggest contributions you can make to keeping kids active is to make a conscious effort to incorporate more physical activity into your own life as well. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of activity at least five times per week. Remember that anything that gets you moving is good and try to sneak extra physical activity into your normal routine if you can’t find the time for a formal exercise regimen: Take the stairs instead of an elevator, pick a parking spot that is further from the grocery store entrance or opt to hand wash your car instead of pulling through an automatic one. Over time, your kids will likely take your lead and absorb those types of good habits.
2. Exercise is NOT a Punishment
The surest way to ruin exercise for children is by turning it into a punishment rather than something to look forward to and to enjoy. Rather than demanding a kid drop and start doing push-ups, consider rewarding him/her the next time they do well on a test or complete their chores by allowing extra time in the pool, a bike ride through the neighborhood as a family or a special trip to a rock climbing gym. This approach is more likely to encourage your child to make physical activity a habit and to stay active into adulthood.
3. Sports Are Not for Everyone …
… And that’s okay! If your child is not excited at the prospect of trying out for the basketball or soccer team, do not try to force it on them. In the same vein as using exercise as a punishment, making a kid participate in a sport that they do not enjoy will only make them associate that physical activity with a negative experience. There are plenty of ways to incorporate exercise for children that do not involve organized sports (or the expensive equipment that can go along with them). Whether running around in the yard as part of a water balloon fight or even something as simple as walking the dog, the key to keeping kids active is to find an option that appeals to innate talents and interests.
4. Make Chores Fun
From working out in the yard to cleaning the house, there are tons of ways you can gamify chores to encourage exercise for children. Most kids love the opportunity to pick out their own flowers or vegetables to go into the garden. You could even give them their own section of the garden to give them a reason to go outside and be physically active every day (watering) with longer periods of activity on the weekends when it is time to do things like weeding the garden. Don’t forget the sunscreen! Then, when it is time to go inside, see who can clean faster or time your child on a regular basis to see if he can beat his record for vacuuming or cleaning his room.
5. Bring a Friend
Everything’s more fun when you have a buddy. The next time your child is acting hesitant about the prospect of going to the park, for a hike or for a walk, enlist some extra help by seeing if a friend can tag along. Keeping kids active is easier when there are multiples of them who can motivate each other.
6. Limit Screen Time
In this day and age, the biggest obstacle to regular exercise for children is probably the ready availability of multiple screens for them to entertain themselves instead. By setting strict limits and rules for the amount of time your kid can watch TV, play on their tablet or use their mobile phones, you eliminate a major challenge to keeping kids physically active. Forcing them to find alternative modes of entertainment naturally leads to more exercise.
7. Try Something New
It may be that your kid just has not found the activity that is right for them yet. That is okay. Trying out a ton of new activities until you find “the one”—even if you never find a specific activity to stick with on its own—is a fun way to encourage exercise for children. With summer vacation quickly coming up, make a list with your child of new things they (and maybe even you) have not tried yet. Has the family ever gone kayaking? Tried tennis? What about croquet? That is your summer bucket list. And now you have a ready answer for the next time the kids complain that they are bored.
It is fairly common knowledge that keeping kids physically active is important to their health. Unfortunately, many people do not realize all of the activities that can constitute exercise and that many times, exercise does not look like an exercise in the traditional sense at all. If you are concerned that your kids are not active enough and would like personalized recommendations for exercise for children, ask your Arrowhead Health Centers practitioner at your child’s next checkup.
What other ways does your family stay active?