With almost a full third of American children weighing in as overweight or obese, it's critical for parents, grandparents, and other caretakers to get kids moving again. Exercise is essential for healthy growth and avoiding future illnesses, but today's obsession with video games and social media websites has reduced physical activity dramatically. Even the youngest kids spend more time watching a screen than running around outdoors. Caretakers who are ready and willing to get their kids off the couch can follow these easy tips for making exercise more fun and appealing.
Follow Natural Patterns
Adults often expect kids to work out as if they're miniature adults. However, children have very different muscle fatigue responses and stamina levels. It's perfectly natural for a child to alternate between bursts of intense energy and standing still. Trying to get a child under the age of 12 to exercise for as little as 10 minutes in one go can backfire, causing unnecessary muscle pain and fatigue. In fact, exercising like an adult can cause injuries. Let the child decide how to structure their activity bursts rather than trying to control exercise routines.
Look Outside Organized Exercise
An adult might thrive on the challenge of training to run a marathon, but the short attention span of a curious child can make routine exercise very boring. In fact, some even find soccer and other organized sports too structured to hold their attention. Remember: anything that gets a children moving is still good exercise, even if it looks more like a completely made-up game involving water balloons and badminton rackets. Think outside the box and consider fun activities like:
- Tag, hide and seek, and other games that require no equipment and no more than two players.
- Video games on the Wii system that involve the whole body, such as bowling and tennis simulations.
- Ping pong and air hockey, two analog sources of fun that require plenty of dashing back and forth.
- Walking the dog—or at least playing with it in the yard.
Kids once roamed their neighborhoods in packs till sundown, but today many children live dozens, even hundreds of miles away from their friends. Nevertheless, getting groups of friends together is the best way to encourage them to stay active and healthy. If it's not possible to drop by and pick up a child's BFF for a day of fun in the park, try using technology to connect them. A kid-tough tablet or smartphone allows a child to get face-to-face with their friends for a video chat while they're all playing and getting exercise in different locations. It's necessary for an adult to supervise this technique, and kids should be steered away from activities where the distraction of a video chat could lead to injury. Being able to use video to show off a handstand or compete to see who can dash across their yard the fastest, makes exercise a lot more appealing.
It follows by implication that it's essential for kids to see a parent or guardian enjoying exercise. Modeling a healthy lifestyle is key. Adults leading a family shouldn't loaf out in front of the TV at every opportunity and expect their children to somehow learn to enjoy exercise. Getting active and encouraging them to participate, or at least to watch and cheer, is the best way to drive home the point that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle. Lectures will do little to convince a child who would rather be playing a shoot-'em-up on Xbox.
Spice Up Routine Activities
There's no need to buy thousands of dollars worth of fancy sports equipment just to get kids excited about physical activity. For example, an inexpensive and intriguing gift like the Spokester bicycle accessory can encourage a child to spend more time on their bike. Bicycling is a great form of whole body exercise, and kids are much more likely to spend a few hours cruising around the neighborhood when their bike sounds like a real motorcycle thanks to the growl produced by the Spokester.
Make It a Reward, Not an Obstacle
Many parents and grandparents try to trade exercise for screen time. They may only allow their child to play video games or use their smartphone for the day after they've spent 20 minutes or so exercising. Unfortunately, this just makes a child consider exercise as an obstacle standing in the way of what they'd rather be doing. Instead, try structuring physical activity as a reward for good behavior, or at least as a break. Offering to toss a Frisbee back and forth for 20 minutes as a break from homework or household chores makes exercise something to look forward to instead of something to get through as quickly as possible.
Bottom line? Stay persistent and don't give up due to resistance from the children who just aren't used to the thrill of exercise yet. Lead the way and they'll get there!