Anne Schneider, D.O.Specialty: Family Medicine, asked in an Edwards Elmhurst Healthy Driven blog your child been loafing on the couch a little too much lately? Only 1 in 3 children are physically active every day. Instead of going outside to play, children and teens are averaging seven hours each day staring at screens, including TVs, computers, phones, and tablets.
Kids are choosing screens over fitness, and it shows. Childhood obesity is the most common chronic disease of childhood. It affects a child’s health and well-being now and later in life. Kids who are obese often become obese adults, increasing their risk for serious health issues.
One of the most important things you can do for your child is to encourage healthy habits early in life, including regular exercise.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says: “Physical activity in children and adolescents improves strength and endurance, builds healthy bones and lean muscles, develops motor skills and coordination, reduces fat, and promotes emotional well-being (reduces feelings of depression and anxiety).”
Regular exercise lays the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. It can help your child learn about the value of teamwork, practicing a skill and meeting challenges. It gives them the chance to make friends and gain self-esteem. Healthy, physically active kids are also more likely to be successful in school.
The AAP recommends children 6 years and older should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. It doesn’t need to be done all at once. Break down the physical activity into shorter blocks of time. Also, your child doesn’t have to be an athlete. All kids can be physically fit, some just may need more encouragement than others.
How do you get your couch potato kid to fit exercise into their life — and love doing it? Try these 12 tips to get your kid off the couch:
- Start small. If convincing your kid to exercise is difficult, don’t make it too intense right away. Start out with a 5-minute bike ride or walk. Eventually, it will turn into 10, and then 20, minutes. Remind your child to listen to his/her body and not overdo it.
- Make time for exercise. Integrate exercise into your child’s daily routine, just like you would do with homework, household chores, music lessons and other planned activities. If you start early enough, they’ll view fitness as a normal and fun part of their everyday routine.
- Find age-appropriate activities. Physical activities should be suited to your child’s age and developmental level and abilities. Active play is the best exercise for younger children. As your child gets older, organized sports may be what he/she enjoys.
- Make it fun. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to be limited to going to the gym. Help your child find something active to do that he/she enjoys. Kids may prefer a bike ride to a jog around the track. When it’s fun, your child will be more likely to stick with it.
- Introduce a sport. Introduce your child to a variety of different sports until he/she finds a favorite. Examples include: basketball, hockey, soccer, softball, running, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, dancing and volleyball.
- Find alternative ways to be active. Try something different like martial arts or karate, fencing, golf, kayaking, yoga or Pilates, skateboarding and rollerblading. Take the dog for a walk. Even gardening is exercise. If the weather is bad, put on some music and dance inside.
- Enjoy old school games. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Kids can stay active for hours with jumping rope, hula-hoops, hopscotch, kick the can, tug of war, freeze dance, playing tag, and kicking or throwing a ball. Try these five fun, old-school games to play with your kids.
- Don’t forget about free play. Kids often get in more exercise when left to their own devices in unstructured free play. Playing tag, rope or tree climbing, playing on the playground, sledding and building a snowman are all healthy and fun ways to stay active.
- Get moving as a family. Be active together (parents vs kids games are always a hit!). Go hiking, rock-climbing, bike riding or bowling. Start a touch-football game in your backyard. Take part in a fundraising walk. Let your child pick the activity, and invite their friends along.
- Be a role model. When your child sees you enjoying physical activity, he/she will follow suit. Share what you like about exercising and why it’s important. Even better, coach your child’s team to show your support.
- Turn off the screens. Limit time spent being inactive, such as TV watching and playing video games. The AAP recommends no more than 1-2 hours of total screen time each day. When you do, make it a fitness-related video game.
- Set goals and track progress. Kids are motivated by goals and progress-tracking. Display a chart of games won, miles ran, etc. where everyone can see it. Set up family challenges (e.g., see how many push-ups or sit-ups each of you can do in 30 seconds).
Ask your child’s physician about physical activities that are safe for your child. Make sure your child’s clothing, equipment and protective gear are comfortable and appropriate for their activity. A proper-fitting helmet for biking is a must!
In addition to regular exercise, encourage your child to eat healthy and get plenty of quality sleep. Healthy habits early in life will set the foundation for a healthy, active life later.
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness offers programs to help children and teens stay active and build healthy habits to last a lifetime. We offer numerous fitness classes for kids, including gymnastics for preschoolers, basketball clinics for 5- to 12-year-olds, extreme fitness training for teens, children’s aquatics classes for kids from 6 months to 12 years of age, and many more.