Physical Activity for our children – it’s not JUST for fun!

Have you had your workout today? What about your kids? We know as adults that we feel better and function more efficiently when we’ve allowed ourselves regular exercise (it’s just a matter of making it a priority, right?) Have you considered your child’s fitness? Regardless of their age, physical fitness is important. Besides the obvious benefits of building strength and maintaining age appropriate weight levels, physical activity in children builds self confidence, increases bone density (which protects them as they age and engage in contact sports), builds social skills, releases stress, and improves sleep quality among other benefits.

1 in 3 American children are obese. Why? Family structure has changed. We are busy, not home much, and eat on the run. Communities are not designed to promote walking or bike riding safely, and our culture promotes play through technology versus outdoor fun.

Did you know that children under 2 years old should not be still for more than 30 minutes at a time? Children older than this should get 60-90 minutes of physical activity a day (divided between structured and unstructured play). What can we do to encourage this pattern of behavior? Here’s a few tips:

  • Lead by example: encourage your child to bike, hike, or walk with you outside. They want our time and will enjoy this special activity with you.
  •  Take your child to the park. I know hours are limited after work, but take something with you that you can work on while they play with friends.  Children need to jump off higher surfaces repetitively (like a playground set) to build enough bone density to prevent stress fractures later on – a playground is a perfect opportunity for this regular weight bearing activity.
  • Have jump ropes, hoola hoops, and balls around the house and provide a space inside where play with them is allowed.  Options with these toys are endless. Play basketball with a laundry basket. Host a long jump contest with two jump ropes. Play Simon Says with the Hoola Hoops jumping over, through, around, and in them.
  • Use the garage for hopscotch and bike riding in colder months.
  • Look into structured recreation: there are plentiful opportunities for gymnastics, soccer, dance, basketball, baseball, and even children’s running clubs among other things.
  • Don’t forget to swim! Find an indoor pool in the winter. Water provides natural resistance to build muscle and endurance. Kids love the water! This is a great time of year to look into swim lessons. The early you start, the better in my opinion.  Learning to swim is a life skill vital to safety besides being fun.
  • Don’t forget your childhood favorites – freeze tag, flashlight tag, duck duck goose, and leapfrog are fun and great exercise.
  • Consider movement in reference to daily routines. Dance while cleaning up dishes. Seek out extra opportunities to go up and down the steps.  Play “basketball” while folding socks.
  • Support increased physical education and outdoor recess at your local schools.  School administrators are under lots of pressure to meet state standards of learning, but it’s important to remember that the brain works best when the nervous system is fed regular movement.
  • Remember to keep the focus on being active and healthy and not thin. Our direct and subliminal messages are heard by our children. Focus on how fast or strong they are and not how they look.
  • Don’t neglect nutritional education. There are picture based food pyramids available online. We went through a period of “food struggle” in our house and I made our girls look at the picture and choose good foods in each area for their own plates.

Making physical activity part of your child’s daily routine from the time they are babies is a wonderful gift. It teaches them that this is a valued part of their day and their health, just as important as eating well or brushing their teeth! Remember that fitness consists of cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility – so consider all elements and get out there and get those kids moving.

Our youngest often BOUNCES OFF THE FURNITURE – LITERALLY! I often need to remind myself that this is not necessarily a bad thing!

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