Exhortations to keep our kids physically active on a daily basis — that is, to get exercise — have become like white noise in so many young families’ lives. We can hear it, but it’s so constant that it simply blends into the background of our busy lives.
But there’s no escaping the fact that making sure our children get daily exercise is extremely important. Being physically active (here comes some of that white noise) helps children maintain healthy weights, build muscle and strong bones, and it contributes to their emotional well-being and establishes positive lifelong habits … well, you know the rest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should get at least 60 minutes of exercise daily, with aerobic activity comprising the bulk of it. (When you get right down to it, we’re talking about children playing and having fun). It doesn’t sound that hard, but between school, homework, parents’ work schedules and ever-present computer, smartphone and TV screens, the days come and go quickly, and exercise is often overlooked.
At Hoag Medical Group, pediatricians like myself see firsthand day in and day out the terrible toll that a sedentary lifestyle can exact on children — and people of all ages, for that matter. So I’d like to share a few tips from the CDC, Parents Magazine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and our own doctors and nurses at Hoag Medical Group on how you can make exercise a fun family affair.
- First, take a long hard look in the mirror. Do you practice what you preach? As a parent, set the example for your kids; make fitness a central part of your, and your entire family’s, life.
- Park the car far away from the store and walk. Climb stairs every chance you get. Invite your kids to shoot some hoops. Play a game of tag in the backyard. When it comes to making exercise fun, the sky’s the limit .
- Make physical activity a game. Challenge your children to see how high they can jump — and how softly and quietly they can land. Tell them to show you what a cheetah looks like when it runs, or how a gorilla’s arms swing when it moves. Bet them that you can do more sit-ups or pushups than them in one minute (and let them win).
- After dinner, take a family walk around the block or to the neighborhood park.
- Find a new trail to explore near your home every weekend.
- If you have a dog, make walking him or her your kids’ daily responsibility.
- Set up bicycle or skating obstacle courses in your driveway, street or local park, and challenge your kids and their friends to complete with them within a given timeframe (“That was really good, but I bet you can set a new personal best next time …”).
- Resist the temptation — and your children’s petitions — to buy them motorized scooters and electric cars that require no physical exertion.
- Sign them up for soccer, Little League, basketball, swimming lessons, or some other organized youth sport that interests them. And then stay involved either by helping coach, referee and attending practices and games.
You get the idea. With a little imagination, you can help get, and keep, your children moving — and in the process, turn that white noise into a soundtrack of lifelong fitness and good health.