I have two children, ages 8 and 10. They are both a bit heavy and don’t do enough exercise or activity. My husband and I could lose a few pounds but are not overweight.
I am worried about the children’s health as they get older and am fearful they will continue to gain weight. Do you have any suggestions for helping us encourage them both to be more active?
Unfortunately, many kids are in the same boat as your children. One in five American kids ages 12 to 17 is overweight, and two-thirds cannot pass a basic physical fitness test.
Even worse, two in five show signs of heart and circulation problems, according to a recent report by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
But there is a positive side. Parents have tremendous influence on their kids and with planning and encouragement can get them moving more and help them make it a lifelong habit.
Consider these practical tips:
* Lead by example. When you are more active, your kids will be too, because children tend to imitate important adults around them. Join a gym that allows you to bring your children and occasionally include them in your workout routine. Talk about how important exercise and activity is to you and how great it makes you feel. Your positive connection with exercise will help your kids see it more positively too.
* Make it routine. It is much easier to make part of a routine a habit. Set aside time each day for physical activity, and make it as non-negotiable as brushing their teeth. For example, in the morning, take the dog to the park with your kids or finish each dinner with a 15-minute walk or fun calisthenics. Your kids will come to expect it, and it will become much easier to get them to do it.
* Use community services. Most cities have a YMCA, Boys and Girls Club or community center with organized exercise classes for kids, as well as martial-arts instruction, sports leagues, gymnastics and "adventure" play. Many of these services are inexpensive, even free. Encourage your children to experiment with many activities to help them discover what they enjoy. These services are great for after school or on weekends. They can also help build your child’s self-confidence.
* Limit TV or video game time. You are almost guaranteed to increase their activity levels. Don’t put a television in your children’s bedrooms, and keep the computer where you can monitor the amount of time they spend in front of it. If your kids enjoy video games, buy ones that encourage activity (such as Dance Dance Revolution). These types of games can burn a lot of calories, and they are a ton of fun for kids of all ages.
* Choose active recreation. Instead of going to the movies, sitting on the beach or driving in the car during family free time, choose more energetic activities. Try a fun game of soccer or touch football, or spend time at a water park or hiking in the mountains or woods. When going to the movies is the only thing your family can agree on, take a 20-minute walk together before and after the movies. Or, if possible, walk to the movies and back.
Remember, encouraging your children to be more active and finding ways for them to easily fit exercise into their daily life is not just a great way to help them manage their weight. It is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of fitness and better health.
Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of "Full-Body Flexibility." He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]