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.
Enjoy Exercise Yourself
Kids will always look up to their parents, so modeling a healthy lifestyle is key. If you want your children to enjoy exercise then you need to enjoy it yourself. Be excited and don't treat exercise as a chore but as a pleasure. 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.
Perform 'Activities', Not Exercises
Trying to get your kids to do a full blown workout with reps, squats and sit ups might be more like a military drill or gym class, and not very fun for the little guys. During the lockdown, a UK fitness guru saw great success with YouTube PE sessions for children. Take a page from his book, and avoid exercise techniques for adults. Instead, do activities that are fun and suitable for kids which simply get them moving. Some ideas:
- Tag, hide and seek, and other games that require no equipment and no more than two players which they are used to from recess.
- Video games on the Wii system or Switch 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.
Buy Some Backyard Toys or Props
To help make those outdoor games at home more creative invest in some cheap dollar store toys to keep it varied and exciting such as:
- Wiffle ball and bat
- Rounders set
- Velcro Ball and catch
- Plastics Boules Set
- Nerf Guns
- Water Guns
- Tennis rackets and ball
Kids once roamed their neighborhoods in packs till sundown, but today many children are not allowed out by themselves, which makes it harder for spontaneous games to happen. As parents it's worth keeping in touch with your child's friends' parents or your friends with kids. Maintaining a social life where kids come together outdoors will naturally result in running around and active play.
This one needs no explaining. Take any child to an indoor play space or fun park and they will run around crazily for hours, and be dripping in sweat by the end.
If your kid is competitive and has the attention span, then they will most likely love organised competitive sports. Enrolling them in after school lessons is a great way to make them enjoy exercise. Consider:
- Baseball (or softball or teeball)
- Ice hockey
- Touch ball
- Swimming lessons
Spice Up Routine Activities
There's no need to buy thousands of dollars worth of fancy sports equipment just to get kids excited about fitness activities. 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. Get them motivated - 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 throaty growl of Spokester.
Make Family Time Active
As a parent it is vital to ensure there is quality family time happening in a household. Instead of all sitting on the couch, replace the family movie with something more active like a walk or bike ride. Invest in the right outdoor clothing and gear to install a love for the outdoors with the littles ones. Make sure they stay warm and comfortable so they enjoy short hikes and walks. Bring plenty of snacks and take moments to appreciate the scenery and wildlife.
Take a Trip to a National Park for Family Vacation
Depending on the distance and your budget, you could take a short vacation or trip to a nearby national park. With plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities (and the right clothing) you can instill a sense of adventure and love for the outdoors at a young age. Whether it's skiing a local hill, renting a cabin or camping, just being outdoors will always keep kids active. Get them started early and they'll grow up with a love for the outdoors.
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. Tossing a Frisbee back and forth as a break from homework or chores makes exercise a fun activity 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!