Keeping kids active: Ideas for
Children seem to become more sedentary every
year, watching television and playing video
games instead of biking to the playground or
playing kickball in the backyard with their
pals. Even schools have stopped emphasizing
fitness. In some school districts, physical
education has vanished completely because of
Kids need regular
exercise to build strong bones and muscles.
Exercise also helps children sleep well at
night and stay alert during the day. Such
habits established in childhood help
adolescents maintain healthy weight despite
the hormonal changes, rapid growth and
social influences that often lead to
overeating. And active children are more
likely to become fit adults.
As childhood has
become more sedentary, children have put on
weight — lots of it. In the past 30 years,
the rate of childhood obesity has more than
tripled, leading to a dramatic increase in
the number of children with type 2 diabetes,
a disease once limited to sedentary,
The forces behind
the obesity epidemic have been operating for
several decades. They're pretty well beyond
your control. But you do have the power to
give your children a lifelong appreciation
for activities that strengthen their bodies.
Set a good example
If you want an active child, be active yourself.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator and
park the car farther away from stores. Never
make exercise seem a punishment or a chore.
Find fun activities that the whole family
can do together, such as:
- Nature hikes
- Walks with the family dog
"If mom and dad
exercise, it's a very powerful stimulus for
a child to exercise," says Edward Laskowski,
M.D., a specialist in physical medicine and
rehabilitation and co-director of the Sports
Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester,
Minn. "In addition to getting you active,
exercising together gives you good family
time. The key is to get kids moving.
Free-play activities such as playing tag,
hide-and-seek, hopscotch or jump-rope can be
great for burning calories and improving
Limit screen time
"There are a lot of reasons why children are less
active today, but the biggest culprit is the
television set, followed closely by video
games and computers," Dr. Laskowski says.
"These activities encourage a sedentary
is directly related to childhood obesity.
Children who watch more than five hours of
television a day are eight times more likely
to be obese than are children who watch less
than two hours of television a day.
A surefire way to
increase your children's activity levels is
to limit the number of hours they're allowed
to watch television each day. Other
sedentary activities — playing video and
computer games or talking on the phone —
also should be limited.
Children don't have to be in sports or take dance
classes to be active. "Every kid is wired
differently," says Dr. Laskowski. "We all
have certain strengths and certain
anatomical features and characteristics that
permit us to do certain things better than
activities are available for a child who
isn't interested in organized athletics. The
key is to find things that your child likes
to do. For instance, if your child is
artistically inclined, go on a nature hike
to collect leaves and rocks that your child
can use to make a collage. If your child
likes to climb, head for the nearest
neighborhood jungle gym or climbing wall. If
your child likes to read, then walk or bike
to the neighborhood library for a book.
For a youngster
interested in sports, however, involvement
can be the basis for a variety of
activities, including training for better
performance and developing skills to play
several sports. Before your child plunges
into an organized sport or activity, learn
as much as you can about:
- How much time you and your child
will have to commit to practices and
- How much participation and equipment
- The characteristics of the sport —
for example, the relative emphasis it
places on agility, speed, coordination,
endurance and strength
- Your child's physical maturity
- The quality of instruction
- What benefits your child hopes to
derive from it, and how you hope it will
benefit him or her
Remember your energetic toddler? Direct that
energy into a lifelong love of physical
activity. For instance, have your child show
you how bunnies hop, eagles fly or dogs wag
suggestions for keeping kids interested:
- Play games your elementary school
child loves, like tag, cops and robbers,
Simon says and red light, green light.
If you don't remember the rules for
these games, make up your own or walk to
your local library and check out a book
- Let your toddlers and preschoolers
see how much fun you can have while
being active. Don't just run with them.
Run like a gorilla. Walk like a spider.
Hop like a bunny. Stretch like a cat.
- Plan your family vacations around
physical activities — hiking, biking,
skiing, snorkeling, swimming or camping.
Take along a ball or Frisbee disc to
sneak in some activity at rest stops.
- Make chores a family affair. Who can
pull the most weeds out of the vegetable
garden? Who can collect the most litter
in the neighborhood? Have your kids help
shovel the snow off the driveway and use
that excess snow to build a huge snow
- Vary the activities. Let each child
take a turn choosing the activity of the
day or week. Batting cages, bowling and
fast-food play areas all count. What
matters is that you're doing something
active as a family.
physical activity into our children's lives
at an early age, we are setting the
foundation for good fitness habits in the
years to come," says Dr. Laskowski. "In
fact, it can have a ripple effect on future
generations and contribute to overall
enhancement of public health."