The statistics are staggering. Only one out of every three children in the U.S. spends time being physically active each day. Less than fifty percent of the time that kids spend in P.E. class or sports practice involves enough activity to be considered exercise. And, children and teens spend an average of seven or more hours on screens and electronic devices each day. The disheartening results of all of this is that about one out of every three children in the U.S. is overweight, and further studies show that being overweight as a teen leads to a seventy percent chance of kids becoming overweight as adults. This means higher risk rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and a slew of other illnesses.
How can we stop this epidemic and encourage our kids to become active? Here are a few easy tips for you busy parents out there, to get your kids and teens moving more.
MIX IT UP
There is no end to the benefits of physical activity for kids and teens. It builds strong bones and muscles, helps maintain a healthy weight, develops coordination, improves strength and endurance, plus it promotes emotional well-being. But kids can get bored with the same type of activity every day. It’s up to you as the parent, to offer them a variety of choices that are age-appropriate and fun. It is recommended that children ages six and older get 60 minutes of physical activity every day. These can be all types of exercise from moderate to vigorous.
While it’s good to engage in activity that kids are familiar and comfortable with, it’s also good to introduce new forms of exercise that they don’t do as often to give them fresh options. These can include dancing, paddle boarding, rock climbing, hiking, rollerblading, tennis, jumping rope, or ice skating. Your child just might find a new activity that they love and want to do every day. For a list of more fun physical activities, check out the book, 303 Kid-Approved Exercises and Active Games from SmartFun Activity Books. The whole goal of this book is to motivate kids to exercise in a fun way that helps them feel good.
BREAK IT DOWN
Adding sixty minutes of exercise every day might seem a bit overwhelming for kids, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once for it to be beneficial. You can break down the 60 minutes into shorter blocks of time throughout the day to fit it in and to keep your child’s interest. For example, start your day with 10 minutes of brisk walking to school or the bus stop, come home from school and let your kids jump on the trampoline for another 20 minutes. Then, take them to soccer practice for 30 minutes. And, if your child is active on the playground at school, that counts, too.
These short blocks throughout the day all add up to 60 minutes of physical activity. If your child is not regularly active now, start slowly and build from there. One great way to keep track of your child’s activity is with a fitness tracker like the Garmin Vivofit Jr. It comes in a variety of fun designs with a comfortable band that kids can slip on and off. Kids can wear it everywhere from the playground to the pool, from a bike ride to the backyard, to help them keep track of their activity level.
Not every child is interested in playing an organized sport such as basketball or soccer. And, if your child is no longer having fun on a team or with a sport, it’s probably time to explore other options. So, think outside the court and look for other non-organized activities that your child might enjoy. Some kids might not be into playing on a team, but they might love rock climbing or hiking. Maybe they don’t want to have to go to a practice every night, but they may want to have a dance party in the basement every day.
Keep trying new things and be patient until they find some things that they really love. That will help them find the start of a lifetime love of physical activity. One great idea for backyard warriors is the Backyard Ninja Line Hanging Obstacle Course for Kids. It includes a 40-foot slackline kit with monkey bars, gym rings and tree protectors that is the perfect American Ninja Warrior training for kids. You can customize your own slackline course to make it as hard or easy as you want by placing the monkey bars and gymnastics rings in any order and any distance apart. It holds up to 250 pounds.
JOIN IN THE FUN
The best way to encourage your kids to get active is to not only be a good role model when it comes to physical activity but also join in with them on their exercise endeavors. You’ll not only get to spend valuable time together but also stay healthier in the process. Plan some physical activities together such as taking a family walk or bike ride, plan a canoe trip, play a game of backyard baseball, train together for a fun race, or mini-marathon. Your kids will especially love it if you get out and play a game with them, plus there are so many wonderful games that families can play to have fun while getting exercise.
A game that is great for all ages is Capture the Flag REDUX. It’s the classic Capture the Flag game revolutionized with futuristic glow-in-the-dark lights. The whole family will be entertained as they break teammates out of jail, sneak into enemy territory, protect bases, and steal the glowing flag to win. Each game box includes two glowing orbs to use as the “flags,” color-coded LED bracelets to differentiate team members, glowing jail markers, and a rule-book. As an extra bonus, each kit includes 12 game variation cards that offer even more ways to play.
UNPLUG FROM TECH
One of the biggest hurdles that parents encounter while trying to get their kids active is limiting screen times. Kids ages 5 to 16 are spending an average of seven or more hours on a screen, with the longest being teenage boys spending an average of eight hours. That’s just too long! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents allow kids no more than two hours of age-appropriate screen time each day. Parents should try to encourage active alternatives to screen time such as outdoor games, shooting basketballs, or walking the dog.
Set guidelines for screen time with your kids and teens, be a good role model when it comes to screen use and activity, and consider removing TVs and computers from their bedrooms to avoid temptation. Kids love to hang with their friends, so instead, invite a peer along on a hike or bring a buddy to the pool. Create good habits now and embrace a lifetime of happier, healthy kids.
For more on how to get your kids outside, read up on The Importance of Physical Play.