There is no way around it – children today are at more risk for obesity and sedate lifestyles than ever before. The CDC now has Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that basically state that kids need at least 1 hour of physical activity each day, combining aerobic, muscle, and bone strengthening exercises. There are ways, however, to encourage kids to lead active lives without forcing them to join the local travelling soccer team.
- Lead by a Positive Example – It can’t be said enough: kids learn by example, whether we want them to or not. Make sure to set a good example when it comes to exercise. If they hear us bemoaning the fact that exercise is boring or there isn’t enough time for it, they will soon see it as the same. If we truly want to raise healthy children who lead active lifestyles it has to start with us.
- Exercise with Your Kids – Last year my husband and our 11 year-old son started running together, then added races to their goals. They started with a 5K, eventually moving up to a 10K for our son and a ½ marathon for my husband. Obviously this was great exercise, but the bond they have formed through sharing it and the excitement they get when gearing up for a race can’t be duplicated. Now our 9 and 8 year old boys work out with their dad as well, having that same special time and enthusiasm for exercise. Our teenage daughter sometimes joins in with the guys, but prefers to hit the trails hiking with me and our dog. Shhh – don’t tell the kids, but exercising together means we get to spend time together as a family!
- Encourage Them to Find Something They Love – There are many activities that involve the core foundations of exercise, but don’t really look like it. Our daughter loves dog agility, running with the dog through various courses (and our dog is nothing if not fast). Get your kids moving with things they love, and they will be more likely to continue to exercise.
- Stock Up on Some Basics – Invest in hula hoops, jump ropes, collapsible tunnels, mini parachutes, balls of all sizes, bean bags, and pylon cones. You can use these in so many ways: making obstacle courses for your kids and their friends, using them to create bike or scooter paths on the driveway or sidewalk, or setting up stations for whole family to move through (maybe while balancing an egg on a spoon).
- Try Something New – Not all kids are baseball, soccer, or basketball players. Encourage your kids to try different activities that involve the core exercise needs. Our kids have even taken up curling (yes, that crazy sport where the stone is thrown on the ice and you sweep to get it to move). Geocaching, rock climbing, yoga, and playing at the pool are all types of great exercises for kids.
- Set Some Rules – Kids are kids and they are not always going to choose the best options for themselves. At the end of the day, they might be more inclined to veg out in front of the television or play video games, but it is our job to provide them with guidelines for healthy lifestyles. If my kids have been fairly sedate, either because they had classes or lessons, or just because they wanted to sit and read, they know the TV won’t be coming on until the feet have done some moving.
- Send Them Outside – Way back last century when I was a kid, we practically lived outside. Climbing trees, playing on the jungle gym, running around with neighbors, building forts, and exploring every inch of ground were some of my favorite things to do. The studies and evidence are clear that outdoor exercise and exploration are keys to healthy living.
- Go Watch Someone Else Do the Work – Our kids love sports and exercise in part because we enjoy watching others compete as well. We love going to baseball and football games, cheering on runners in a race, or oohing and ahhing over flips and summersaults in an acrobatic routine. Watching the passion other people have for their own sports influences our kids and gets them excited about varieties of physical activities.