Physical activity is important for children and adults of all ages. While for adults, it is recommended to get 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours every week of moderate physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. For children, it is recommended that they receive 60 minutes of active play every day. While the creative and imaginary play is very important, active play helps to create healthy exercise habits and builds strong bodies.
Becoming an active family is something that can teach children to establish healthy exercise habits into adolescent years and adulthood. Parents’ example have a profound effect on the children. So it is important that parents live an active lifestyle too. Activity often faces barriers like time, energy, cost and location and distraction. However, with knowing where to start, these barriers can be overcome. Here are some ideas that may work for you.
Scheduling– Each summer we create a “Summer Bucket List” of family activities. These are places we want to go or things we want to do that will get us out of the house and interacting with one another. These activities should include local venues where you can get out and moving. Even if that movement is strolling through the local park while the children climbing all over the jungle gym. For example, plan trip to a swimming pool, the zoo, a splash pad, hiking to a nearby cave or waterfalls. In our house the children all contribute to the bucket list.
They provide their own list and we select the most popular items that will fit into our budget and calendar. When they are on the calendar we look forward to that day. We know it will be a day we get to all be together without interruption. We enjoy each others company and make memories as a family. Creating a summer bucket list helps to overcome the barrier of not having time to be active. These activities are planned, on the calendar and something everyone looks forward to doing. Have you ever participated in a family race. Amy at SuperHealthyKids.com has some great recommendations for getting started.
Energy– A balanced diet will help with having the energy needed to be active. Eating whole grains will provide kids with long lasting energy. Snacks should include nutrients, not just empty calories. When kids eat foods that are highly processed and high in sugar they experience hunger again quickly as the body burns off the sugar rapidly. This will provide short term energy, but will not provide sustained energy needed to run and play for a long time. This is particularly important for kids that are involved in sports. Imagine trying to plan a road trip and only provide gasoline fumes in the tank. Your trip would be very short. It works the same with grains. Grains are the food group that supply quick energy. By providing whole grains that breakdown more slowly they fill the tank and have the nutrient fuel to last longer during play. Kids can run longer and not tire as quickly.
Sleep– A good night’s rest. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute report that sleep needs change as we age. Individual sleep needs vary, but they have recommended hours of sleep based on age these guidelines include:
- Newborns- 16-18 hours a day
- Preschool aged children 11-12
- School- aged children at least 10 hours a day
- Teens 9-10 hours a day
- Adults 7-8
These numbers are recommendations. Your child may need more and some may need a little less, but based on research a child will feel better and perform better with around 10 hours of sleep a night. Tired kids are often not motivated to be active and prefer to remain inactive watching TV. They are also more prone to accident when they become active than a well rested child. (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention)
A good friend– I believe that everyone needs to have a good friend to get out and do things with. As adults finding an exercise buddy may be a good way to improve activity. They rely on you and you on them to motivate each other. With children having a good friend that enjoys activity can be a huge boost in a child’s activity level. When engaged in exercise while spending time with a friend it is merely playing. They run, play, climb and imagine, firing off all kinds of stimuli in the brain. Playing alone is ok now and then, but having a friend to jumprope or play basketball with is much more fun.
As a family finding a neighbor or extended family members that you can plan activities with will increase the excitement and enjoyment of exercise. Although a nice day hiking as a family is fun, planning it with another family can double the fun.
Cost and Location– Fitness should be free. Although going to a gym or a specific venue is a great place to be active, it is not the only place. The outdoors are free!! Look into local resources like walking and biking trails, parks, high school track or tennis courts. Chances are there is something near you. Safety in the environment should be a top priority. Make sure that when selecting a location it is safe. You could even check the local library for exercise videos to do at home.
The weather can often throw a curve into activity plans. Identify locations indoors and outdoors where kids can have room to climb and play. When you are really in a bind due to cold, heat or rain, an indoor playland at a restaurant can become a park. Just skip the kids meal and go for a yogurt parfait.
Turn off the TV– Television is a distraction. Screen time needs limitation. “With more electronic entertainment options, it has become harder to get children up and moving.” In the last 20 years the number of children who are overweight has doubled and the number of children who are physically active has gone down. Screen time should be limited to no more than 2 hours a day.
Build new skills– Looking for ways to build new skills in your child will help light a fire of excitement. Kids love to learn new things. Contact a city recreation center or a location that teaches specialty skills like martial arts, dance or gymnastics. Join a team to learn a new sport, there are usually youth sports programs available where children can learn not only a new sport, but life skills like team-work, self control, the importance of hard work and integrity.
Although the barriers to increasing activity can seem overwhelming, it is not something that needs to be conquered all at once. Tackling one barrier at a time and improving little at a time will grant long term results.