For the first time in many years, the newest generation’s life expectancy is projected to be shorter than their parents. This phenomenon is due to the rising numbers of children who are overweight or obese and the health risks associated with excess body weight.
It’s easy to find lifestyle and diet factors that contribute to overweight children, such as increased levels of refined sugar and hidden fats in processed foods, the popularity of sedentary leisure activities such as television watching and computer games and decreased funding for physical education programs in schools. We also know that today’s kids need to get active in order to get healthy, and it’s up to parents and caregivers to help them learn how to do that.
Physical Exercise Can be a Fun Family Activity
The biggest key to successfully increasing the amount of physical activity in your child’s life is to make it part of a fun family activity. Whether that means a daily walk to the park after dinner, a weekend bike ride or trip to the waterslides, keeping physical activity fun and lighthearted takes the pressure off, and makes your kids more likely to enjoy themselves and want to keep doing active things. If your child enjoys competitive sports, such as soccer or softball, go ahead and sign them up for a neighborhood team, but don’t force your child to play team sports if the doesn’t want to. Physical fitness doesn’t have to be about racing, winning or competing in order to be fun and healthy.
Parental Modeling is Key
When including physical activity in your family’s daily routines, it is important that adult role models such as parents and caregivers participate fully in physical activity as well as encouraging their kids to get active. Children learn more from parents’ actions than they do from their words, so simply getting active yourself can have a bigger effect than a daily lecture about the importance of increasing your heart rate.
If you are overweight yourself, increasing your own physical activity and losing weight is a powerful example for your kids. Another way parents can help their children get active is by teaching them the skills needed to participate in sports, such as how to ride a bike, throw a ball or swim confidently. If you feel like you’re not great at these things yourself, join a class and learn together!
Every Little Bit Counts
You and your children don’t need to be cycling an hour every day to stay healthy; every little bit of physical activity helps to work your muscles and keep you fit. It is good to aim for a mix of activities, including some cardiovascular activity to work your heart and lungs, such as running or jumping rope; some weight bearing exercise to strengthen bones, such as lifting groceries or hanging from monkey bars; and stretching, such as yoga, to maintain flexibility.
Storytime Yoga by Sydney Solis is a great storybook and DVD for parents who would like to introduce yoga in a storytelling format that is easy and fun for kids between the ages of 8-12. Gardening, walking to school, helping with household chores and playing at the playground all count as physical activity.
Helping children increase their physical activity and stay healthy does not need to happen overnight, so don’t put too much pressure on cutting out all junk food and television at once. The key to success is keeping physical activity fun, positive parental participation and a gradual increase in overall activity.
Originally published on Suite101.com on May 5, 2008