Do you remember when you started getting serious about fitness? Many of us go through times in our lives where we're fairly sedentary — usually in those mid-20s to 30s, where our careers are demanding, time is constrained, and the gym just doesn't happen. We're not playing on college sports teams anymore, there are no intramurals to take part in. If you want to exercise, you usually have to be self-motivated.
It's not the 20-something professionals, though, that are at the most risk for a sedentary lifestyle. Just like adults, our kids go from an age where physical activity comes naturally and easily—running on playgrounds and climbing on jungle gyms—to where it’s a lot more difficult.
Access to technology increases and the temptation to sit indoors increases with it. Some kids will feel that they aren't good at sports or the demands of school work will drive them away from being active.
It's tough being a kid.
We know as parents, though, how important it is for our children to stay active.
A few statistics to consider (courtesy of Healthychildren.org):
- Only one-third of children are physically active every day.
- Kids and teens spend an average of 7 hours a day in front of phones, televisions, computers, and other screens for entertainment.
- One-third of American children are overweight or obese.
- Overweight teens have a 70% chance of remaining overweight or becoming obese in adulthood.
As parents, we have the opportunity to have a lot of positive influence on the healthy lifestyles of children, including what they eat and how they exercise. What we teach them now can lay the foundation for lifelong habits!
Plus, doing it now can help develop muscle and bone strength, improve concentration and motivation, improve sleep quality, decrease the chance of type 2 diabetes, and improve weight control and overall mood.
But how do you make it all stick? Here are a few tips.
Be a role model.
That's right—we're not off scot-free here. Children who have active parents are much more likely to want to exercise. They need good examples to follow! If you want to encourage your child to get active, be active yourself. If you love it and show that it makes you feel good about yourself, that will influence their desire to do the same.
Make it fun.
It's not enough to do any activity. We have to make sure that our kids are engaging in activities that they actually enjoy. After all, the goal isn't just to get them out there to slog through 60-minutes of torture. It's to lay a foundation for good habits that will carry through for their whole lives!
Help your child find a physical activity that they actually love. It might be a team sport, like soccer or baseball, but it also might be swimming, biking, or cross-country. They might enjoy martial arts or something less structured, like jumping rope or rock-climbing. There are a lot of possibilities!
Off with the screens.
One of the best things we can do as parents is put a limit on how much time our kids spend in front of screens. Not only has there been research done on the addictive nature of our devices, but they have a habit of turning us all into couch potatoes!
Set limits—most experts suggest no more than 1 to 2 hours daily—and use that time for physical activity.
Look for community activities.
To help your kids get active, get active as a family. Chances are, there are attractions somewhere close by that hold family-friendly events that focus on physical activities: whether it's a charity fun run or an event at a nearby national park.
Even if there's nothing going on, you can always visit trampoline parks, throw a ball around in the local park, or just go on a family bike ride together.
Sometimes, a lack of good equipment holds us back. It's true for our kids, too. Think about what they're using: are they playing in parks and on playgrounds with good equipment? Do they have good roller skates and bikes? Are their workout clothes comfortable and, to them, stylish? If they're going to exercise, they need to feel comfortable and confident doing it!
As parents, we’re just as responsible for helping our children develop good exercise habits as we are for our own.