How can parents encourage children to be more active?
Q: I want to encourage my kids to be more active now that the weather is hot. What are the ways to do it?
A: Physical activity is very important for the mental and physical health of a child or teenager, but unfortunately only about 1 in 4 children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
Physical activity levels drop sharply as a child’s age and grade level increase, especially for girls. But when physical activity is a part of family life from a young age, children are more likely to continue to be active even as they age.
Physical activity includes all kinds of movement, regardless of intensity, including the exercises and physical movements that are built into daily activity, such as walking to a friend’s house on a game date. Physical activity helps build healthy bones, muscles, and joints. It can also help maintain a healthy body mass index and lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease later in life.
The immediate benefits are in helping children fall asleep quickly and sleep well. Physical activity also improves a child’s mental health. It increases a child’s enthusiasm and optimism and can improve self-esteem, academic performance, attention and even behavior. It also reduces anxiety, tension and depression. It can also promote teamwork and friendship when it is part of organized sport.
Parents can play a key role in helping their children become more physically active. Here are 10 tips to get your kids moving after more than a year of cancellations and lockdowns during the pandemic.
• Speak with your child’s doctor: A pediatrician can help your child understand why physical activity is important and help them find fun and developmentally appropriate ways to increase their activity.
• Focus on amusing: Help your child find a sport or activity that they really enjoy. The more your child enjoys activity, the more likely it will become a staple in their life. Get the whole family involved. It’s a great way to spend time together.
• Plan forward: Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to exercise.
• To bring a safe environment: Make sure the equipment and the place where children train or play are safe. Make sure their clothes are comfortable and suitable for the activity.
• To bring active toys: Young children especially need easy access to balls, jump ropes and other active toys.
• To be A model: Children who regularly see their parents playing sports and physical activity are more likely to do so on their own.
• To play with your children: Help them learn a new sport or other physical activity, or just have fun together by going for a walk, hike or bike ride.
• Together screen limits: Limit screen time, including watching TV, scrolling through social media feeds, and playing video games, every day. Use the free time for physical activities.
• Allow time for physical activity: As children return to a more normal schedule this summer, they may become overbooked with classes and other scheduled activities. Make sure they have enough time to get some fresh air and move around. Find state parks in your area that have good hiking trails, or go to a nearby lake or beach for a day of swimming and bathing.
• Don’t overdo it: Exercise and physical activity shouldn’t hurt. If it becomes painful, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. If exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk to your child’s doctor.
Studies show that lifestyles learned in childhood are much more likely to stick with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activity are a family priority, they will provide children and parents with a solid foundation for healthy lives. Physical activity and a balanced diet are essential for a healthy life. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children. It’s never too late to start. Ask your child’s doctor for tools for healthy living.
Physical activity is very important for the mental and physical health of a child or adolescent.
Dr. Natalie Muth is a pediatrician and dietitian. She is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and author of “Family Fit Plan: A 30-Day Wellness Transformation.” For more information, visit HealthyChildren.org, the AAP parenting website.