Fit Kids = Fit Adults
Sometimes it seems that today's children are far more motivated to give their fingers a workout playing video games or using the remote control than they are to move bigger muscles in their bodies. In fact, research shows that 50 percent of 12- to 20-year-olds are not getting the exercise they need. And 34 percent of those kids would fail an eight-minute treadmill test.
"Children watch an average of 3 to 5 hours of television a day", according to Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, author of Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children (Harper Collins, 2007). "That really doesn't leave much time to shape up their bodies and their brains."
According to Dr. Trachtenberg, children who enjoy doing physical activity are more likely to exercise as adults. "It's much easier to keep a good habit than it is to break a bad habit," she says.
So the question is, how do you get the good exercising habits started? Here, Dr. Trachtenberg shares her tips for making exercise entertaining for even the most confirmed couch potato kid.
1. Let them play video games.
If your kids love video games, use them as a reward for doing something active. Encourage your children to do their homework and play with their friends (ideally outside engaging in physical activity) after school. If they perform these tasks, let them indulge in some downtime playing video games after dinner.
2. Take out the TVs.
Minimize the temptation to just plop in front of the tube by limiting the number of televisions in your house. Take it a step further limit the amount of time they're allowed to watch TV — an hour a day is plenty. You might also limit their options: Get rid of the DVD collection and subscribe to a more basic cable package. If there's nothing to watch, vegging in front of the TV becomes a lot less attractive.
3. Expect them to say no.
Transitioning from one activity to another is difficult for some kids, according to Dr. Trachtenberg. So instead of demanding that they immediately put down the video game and go outside to play ball, for example, give them a five-minute warning. Consider using an egg timer if you are met with resistance.
4. Be a cheerleader.
It's all about positive encouragement. If you want your child to play sports, be there on the sidelines to cheer them on. That means showing lots of energy and enthusiasm, especially at the beginning of the activity, even if you would rather plop down in front of the television yourself. For example, when asking your child to join you for a walk or a game of basketball say, "Come on, get your shoes on. I've already got mine on. I'm really excited to play!"
5. Sneak in exercise.
Ask your child to perform chores that require physical activity but that are still fun. For example, washing a car, gardening, or raking leaves will get their hearts pumping. Keep it fun by having a water fight after cleaning the car or having a race to see who can make the biggest heap of leaves. Then jump in the winning pile. Though the chore may end up taking twice as long to complete, the results will be worth it.
6. Walk the walk.
Walking is terrific exercise at any age. If you child is old enough, put him in charge of walking the dog. Or take a stroll together after dinner to catch up on the day's events.
7. Get the gift of fitness.
Ask for gift certificates to a rock climbing center and other recreational facilities for your child's birthday
8. Involve older children in sports and exercise.
Invite them on a bike ride, a hike in the woods, or even a trip to the gym. Ask a trainer to offer some age-appropriate exercises, but only if your child seems interested in participating.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, August 2007.