Keeping kids active is no easy task.
For those who don’t know, children, aged 6-17, should get 60 minutes of physical activity per day— much easier said than done (especially after the habits created by virtual school, Netflix binges, and constantly raiding the pantry!)
Inactivity is not a small problem. It negatively affects children physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most obvious effect is weight gain. But you may also notice other signs your child has acclimated to an inactive lifestyle, including:
- Decrease in energy
- Creativity loss
- Poor sleeping habits
- Food dependencies
- Dependency on mind-numbing activities like television and gaming
- Misbehaving for attention
- Emotional outbursts
Inactivity isn’t something that kids “outgrow,” but it is something they can overcome. Being proactive is the best way to prevent inactive habits and these tips will support healthy habits from childhood onward.
Boosting Healthy Activity with 4 Simple Ways
While every parent would agree that movement is in their kid’s best interest, it can be hard to keep kids moving. How do you get kids to exercise? Consider starting with motivation.
Keeping Kids Healthy and Active Tip #1: Capitalize On Their Interests
If we are honest, getting enough regular exercise can be a challenge for some of us…so, it’s understandable when kids aren’t thrilled by the prospect. To avoid any aversion on their part, it’s important to start with their interests.
What does your child enjoy doing? Video games? Exploring? Reading? It doesn’t have to be an active hobby that you are focusing on…anything (and everything!) can be used to motivate kids into being more active.
Once you know what your kids like to do, you can start to think of ways their interests can be turned into action. A few examples are:
- Most children love music. So, crank up the volume and get into the grove together! Kids of all ages will have fun dancing around the house with you, and, depending on your rhythmic skills, may also lead to a lot of laughter. Have a dance-off. Record your moves in slow-mo. See who can come up with the silliest choreography.
- Any American Ninja Warrior fans out there? Create an obstacle course in the house or in the backyard. Use furniture and pillows to climb over and under and so on. Or create a full obstacle course in the backyard complete with jungle gyms, rope swings and even tires for running through.
- Play Switch games! Choose a video game that is active such as Ring Fit Adventure or Just Dance 2022 and have family game nights.
- Insects, anyone? Go on a hunt and see what you can find. Bring a magnifying glass and your phone or camera. Keep looking until you spot bugs sporting every color of the rainbow.
- Why watch sports when you can play them! Chase a soccer ball, shoot some baskets (toddlers can toss a ball into a bucket or large pot), or see if you can keep a balloon in the air without dropping it. Keeping score can be fun for older kids, but aren’t necessary. Just playing together as a family makes the activity win-win.
- Download a mobile game, such as Pokémon Go, or even a Geocaching app, and head out into the neighborhood or explore the nearby woods together.
- Dog lover? If your child likes dogs, and they are old enough, consider encouraging them to walk the neighborhood dogs. Who knows? They might even earn a little cash making the get-active incentive even better.
Keeping Kids Healthy and Active Tip #2: Reward Physical Activity
A great way to motivate your children to be healthy and active is to reward active play. This ties back into their interests because you can use their interests as a reward. For instance, if they want to play on their gaming console, they’ll need to clock an hour of outside play first.
Make rewards either your time and attention or some type of activity instead of treats since using food as a reward can contribute to unhealthy habits.
Keeping Kids Healthy and Active Tip #3: Require Participation for the Whole Family
Find ways for the entire family to be active. Maybe everyone takes a walk before dinner. Or, get a hula-hoop and have contests to see who can keep it up the longest. Remember, you’re the parent. It’s ok to require participation, just think about ways you can make exercising together fun.
Keeping Kids Healthy and Active Tip #4: Model It
Finally, when it comes to being active, set the example. Kids model their behavior on their parents so when they see you moving, exercising, and playing, they’re more likely to be open to physical activity as well.
Getting your Kids to Exercise — At Every Age!
No matter the age, encourage activity. Whether it's a specific sport or playing tag with friends, aim for at least 30-60 minutes of activity per day. If you don’t have an hour, break it down into shorter activities that fit your child’s schedule. 15 minutes is worthwhile as some exercise is always better than nothing.
When we look at exercise, we need to remember that it looks different for every age. Some activities may be too advanced for younger children, while other activities may be considered to be too boring or easy for older kids. While there are some movements that can work for everyone, it's helpful to know which activities work to enhance the specific muscle development that happens during a specific age range.
If you’re wondering how to get your kids to exercise, here are some ideas that work based on their age range:
Toddler and Preschoolers (2-5)
This age is all about big movements…also known as gross motor. Things like kicking, throwing, catching, and other locomotive skills help children learn to move and improve coordination. Exploring playgrounds and climbing kid-friendly rock walls are also great activities for this age range. If you need to take it inside, encourage games where kids are climbing under and over furniture. It keeps them active and also helps them develop great spatial awareness.
Elementary and preteen kids can begin to really fine-tune their spatial awareness, strength and fine and gross motor skills. They benefit from practicing changing directions and learning patterns and sequenced movements — think hop-scotch, jump rope, and skip-its! Monkey bars, jungle gyms, and climbing walls are other great ways for them to build the muscular ability they need to move their bodies intentionally.
Exercise during the teenage years will see that shift from child play to more adult-geared exercises. However, before they start adult gyms, or using equipment for adults, make sure they know how to use it. Help them learn the proper form from the beginning so they set healthy habits. Then, make sure they start small and gradually work towards more difficult or intense exercise.
For most teens, a great progression looks like this:
- Calisthenics: Bodyweight exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, sit-ups, and burpees begin to build muscle, endurance, flexibility, and coordination.
- Free Weights/Dumbbells: Lift light weights with simple exercises, including bicep curls and rows.
- Sports: Encourage the participation in a variety of recreational sports.
- Machine work: Use strength training machines to build general muscle.
- Sport-specific training: Target specific muscles and skills based on the sports they play.
- Cardiovascular training: Get the heart rate up through running, walking, swimming, or biking to increase endurance.
When kids are young, let them enjoy movement without feeling like they have to do a structured task. Kids won’t love structured exercises until they’re teenagers…if ever… and often have a sport they love and want to train for. The structure of “working out” doesn’t come until they have a more serious goal they’re striving towards.
Keeping kids active can be difficult, but it's a worthwhile pursuit. If your child has been showing signs of inactivity, it's time to get moving! As they embrace a more active lifestyle, you'll likely see improvements all-around.