Help Your Kids Get Exercise – Be Active Together!
Posted on Jan 3, 2012
Much as the family dinner is one of the best ways to stay connected with your kids, being active together as a family provides an equally powerful bonding experience with the added bonus of making sure everyone in the family is getting some healthy exercise. Know that the best possible way to encourage your child to exercise is to set a good example yourself – your child wants to do and be like you. Your level of activity will dictate how active he or she is now and will help your child establish healthy exercise habits for life.
How can I make sure my toddler is getting the right amount and type of exercise?
Toddlers are naturally very active anyway – running, climbing, jumping, moving and exploring the world around them is what toddlers are all about. For young children, it’s more important to limit screen time (this includes anything with a screen such as the TV, computers and electronic devices such as video game players or phones). Try not to use the TV as a babysitter. The more time your little one spends in front of the TV or another screen, the less time he or she will be using his or her imagination, exploring and being active which is what children this age should be doing and is critical to ensuring their healthy mental and physical development.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children under 2 years old should not watch any TV at all. For children over 2 years old, any screen time should be limited to less than two hours a day. Make sure that even as your child gets older he or she does not have a TV in their bedroom and you set limits on screen time.
My 8-year-old son has P.E. at school. Isn’t that enough exercise?
Even if your son’s school has a physical education program, he might not have it every day nor may the exercise level be enough to meet the recommended daily amount of exercise. Currently, 60 minutes of vigorous exercise (enough to elevate the heart rate and sweat) most days of the week are recommended for children and adults.
During the elementary school years is the perfect time to encourage your child to try some of the many sports options out there, such as organized team sports whether it’s soccer, baseball or exercise classes such as dance, gymnastics and martial arts. If your son is interested in a particular sport or team, let him try it out. If he doesn’t like the sport, that’s fine, too. Try something else. Keep a mellow approach, don’t force it. Remain encouraging and suggest other options.
My daughter doesn’t enjoy organized team sports. How can I make sure she is getting enough exercise?
Even if your daughter doesn’t like organized sports there are plenty of options for her and the rest of the family to be active. Here are a couple of ideas for meeting the recommended weekly exercise requirement:
- Take a family walk together after dinner.
- Ride a bike (to school or for pleasure).
- Go for a weekend hike in the beautiful outdoors.
- Play pick up sports. Call a friend or two who will kick a soccer ball, shoot some hoops or throw a Frisbee with you.
- Go rock climbing at the gym.
- Hula hooping, wave boarding or roller skating.
- Find out what classes friends are taking whether it’s karate or dancing and join them. Children are more likely to want to try something new if they can do it with a friend.
- Get a family membership to the gym such as the YMCA that is not too expensive. Teenagers, for example, often enjoy some of the adult classes such as kick boxing, yoga or Pilates.
My son loves games on the Wii. For some of the games, he is quite active – is this good exercise?
The Wii games may be billed as active but are often not so. For example, for some games your son might still be sitting on the couch and only moving his hand or wrist. Remember for something to be the type of exercise to keep you healthy, he needs to sweat and his heart rate should be elevated. Try doing the games with him to see if they really qualify as exercise. And don’t forget to balance these games with the recommended amount of real exercise.
Nancy Barnett, M.D. , is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and contributed to this blog post.