Regular physical activity is a key component of a long, healthy life. And, children are more likely to lead an active lifestyle as adults if they learn those habits when they’re young. Physically active people are less likely to be obese or develop common chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. You can keep kids active this summer – and all year long – by following the tips outlined in this post.
The Benefits of Physical Activity for Kids
We’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of an active lifestyle for adults. As a reminder, physical activity is great for both mind and body. Exercise improves mood, raises energy levels, helps you maintain a healthy weight, protects you against disease, and even improves your cognitive abilities.
Kids get all those same benefits. Plus, it helps keep their still-growing bodies strong. And, with the addition of a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole grains, regular exercise helps protect them against a variety of illnesses and chronic conditions. Studies have also shown that physically active kids are more likely to feel confident, motivated, and focused. All of this helps them do better in school than their less active counterparts.
Look for Age-Appropriate Physical Activities
Your goal as a parent should be making physical activity part of your child’s everyday life. Experts recommend an hour each day for kids, which is double the minimum amount recommended for adults. It may seem like a challenge, but remember that physical activity doesn’t have to be guided exercise. Anything that has your kid up and moving qualifies. Recommended activities vary depending on your child’s age.
Physical Activities for Preschoolers
When dealing with preschoolers, a lot of what adults might consider play is actually developing the child’s motor skills. Tossing or kicking a ball back and forth comes immediately to mind, but a game of tag also qualifies. So do hide and seek, jumping rope, hopscotch, and learning how to ride a bike.
Most experts don’t recommend organized team sports for kids younger than 5, but you can start teaching them the fundamental skills they’ll need for little league or soccer. When you’re working on these skills, show your child how to do it, don’t describe it to them. They’ll learn more quickly that way.
Whatever you do, keep it fun and casual. Remember, the average attention span of a young child is fairly short. If you’re playing catch and your kid stops to chase a butterfly, let them. They’re still running and playing, and that’s the important part.
Physical Activities for School-Age Kids
Once your kid goes to school, it can be harder to keep them active. There’s always a screen beckoning. Beyond that, it can be a challenge because this is when kids start to develop their own personality and display natural abilities – or a lack of them – when it comes to sports.
If you’ve been working on gross and fine motor skills since they were little, you already know whether your kid can catch a ball or instead has the proverbial butter fingers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage a kid with less natural athletic ability to play sports. It does mean you may need to try a few before you find the one that he or she likes – and will stick with. Look beyond baseball, softball, and soccer. Consider martial arts, dance, tennis, and track, and field.
Also, don’t expect organized sports to fulfill all of your child’s activity needs. First, they rarely play an hour each day. Second, they likely get fewer than 30 minutes worth of activity during practices and games. Add a family bike ride to your weekly schedule. Take a hike. Put the “play” back in play dates with trips to the park, games of frisbee and tag, or a hide and seek marathon.
Keeping Teens Active
With teenagers, it’s often a progression of what they loved when they were younger. But, you may also find that your little all star suddenly isn’t that interested. It’s okay to encourage your teenager to not give up their spot on the team but think twice about forcing them. Your goal is instilling healthy habits that last a lifetime, not lifelong resentment.
This is also when you might begin a structured exercise plan with your child. Weight training (talk to their pediatrician about limits), yoga, Zumba classes, a daily walk or run – whatever your child enjoys and will maintain. As much as you can, support their efforts with the right gear and transportation.
Broaden Your Ideas of Physical Activity
In addition to outdoor play and sports, having your child help out around the house keeps them active. Giving your kids chores helps them feel like a valuable member of the family and instills a sense of responsibility. It also teaches them skills they’ll need later (everyone knows at least one person who left home with zero homemaking skills).
Physically active chores include sweeping and vacuuming, dusting, working in the garden, walking and cleaning up after the dog, and raking leaves.
Don’t Discount Video Games
Video games have changed a lot in recent years. Of course, outdoor play is important (in addition to fresh air, kids get vitamin D from the sun), but you can incorporate your kid’s love of video games with leading an active lifestyle. Nintendo has two consoles – the Wii and Wii-U – that have games that get you up off the couch and moving. Games like Dance, Dance Revolution get you sweating and are available on all of the major consoles. And, these video games can be fun family game night options.
Lead by Example
If you want to instill healthy habits in your kids, your best bet is to lead by example. Children develop their understanding of what “normal” is by watching their parents. If you doubt it, do a little people watching next time you’re out and about, paying special attention to families. For the most part, you’ll see kids whose fitness levels match their parents’.
If you’re more likely to spend hours in front of the TV, so are your kids. So, get up and get moving – and take your kids with you. Go for a walk, jump in the pool, start a weekly hiking trip, take a bike ride – the choices are endless. Even if you’ve been mostly inactive until now, it’s never too late to set a good example for your children. If you aren’t sure where to begin, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she understands your current health levels and what types of activities will be both safe and effective.