Obesity levels in children in developed countries are reaching crisis proportions. Too many children are simply not active enough today, and will not be as they get older. Unless arrested this will later translate into heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and billions of dollars of avoidable health care costs.
In the US, less than one-third of children are “active to a healthy level.” The Sports and Fitness Industry Association defines that as 25 minutes of high-calorie-burning physical activity three times a week.
Physical activity is a key contributor to current and future health. It helps children maintain a healthy weight and also improves bone and muscle strength, circulation, mental health, and many other aspects of health. Being overweight or obese can lead to a variety of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. It is not the only thing that helps children stay at a healthy weight — food and drink, sleep, stress, and medications can also affect weight — but it plays a big role.
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance for parents, and those responsible for the upbringing of children, that they encourage them to be physically active, and to take part in sports.
Here are 20 tips on how to encourage them.
1. Act as a role model
Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves.
2. Choose an activity that is age appropriate
Choose an activity that is appropriate for their age and state of development. For example, a 7- or 8-year-old child is not ready for weight lifting or a 3-mile run, but football, bicycle riding, and swimming are all appropriate activities.
3. Create healthy competition
Competition can add fun to physical activity, as long as it’s done in the right spirit. Set up informal running races (giving the younger children an advance start); see who can do the most jumping jacks, who can skip rope the longest, and so on.
Be careful though not to make it too competitive, as this can discourage some children.
4. Do not overdo it
When your child is ready to start, remember to tell them to pay attention to their bodies. Exercise and physical activity should not hurt. If this occurs, your child should slow down or try a less vigorous activity. As with any activity, it is important not to overdo it. If your child’s weight drops below an average, acceptable level or if exercise starts to interfere with school or other activities, talk with your child’s doctor.
Also, remember if exercise starts to become a chore for a child, the less inclined they are going to want to participate in a physical activity.
5. Encourage them to walk more
Rather than drive children everywhere, even to a friend’s house that is just down the road, encourage them to walk there (provided you live in a safe neighbourhood and there are no busy roads to cross).
6. Find a Fun Activity
Help your child find a sport that they enjoy. The more they enjoy an activity, the more likely it is they will continue with it. The basic rule is that sport and activity should be enjoyable.
7. Get the entire family involved
Find an activity that the whole family can enjoy together. A weekend bike ride or a long walk are not only great ways to share a physical activity with your family, but also helpful for bringing family members up to date with each other’s news.
8. Give children chores
Starting even at a young age, children can help with physically active chores around the house, including taking out the rubbish, making beds, sweeping the kitchen, scrubbing floors, raking leaves, clearing snow, and washing the car.
9. Give toys a miss
Help children get active by giving sporting goods rather than toys as birthday or Christmas presents.
10. Go Outside
From birth on, do your best to make sure your child gets some outdoor time every day, no matter the weather or your schedule.
11. Make fitness a social activity
Get together with friends, neighbours, or other family members to do something active together.
12. Make time for exercise
Some children may be so overburdened with school, homework and after school activities, that they do not have time to exercise. Find a way to make time in their schedules.
13. Play with your child
No matter how busy you are, find the time to actively play with your child.
14. Provide active toys.
Young children especially need easy access to balls, jump ropes, and other active toys.
15. Provide a safe environment
Make sure your child’s equipment and chosen site for the sport or activity are safe. Also ensure that your child’s clothing is comfortable and appropriate.
16. Start them early
Active kids are more likely to become active adults, so teach them to enjoy it now! The earlier you start with children, the easier it is for physical activity to become part of their routines.
17. Strive for balance
Physical activity should be included in daily life in as seamless a way as possible. When your child is not feeling well, or is experiencing unusual stress, loosen your expectations around exercise, and find longer activity periods when they work more easily into their lives.
18. Turn off the television
Limit TV watching and computer use. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, computers, and video games, each day. Use the free time for more physical activities.
19. Try something new
Develop new family activities such as indoor rock climbing, rowing, skiing or sailing.
Encourage children to try a range of sports and activities to develop a range of skills and find one or two that they really like.