Strategies for fitter kids: Trading screen time for fun exercise
It’s no secret that children, like adults, need regular exercise. In fact, the Canadian Pediatric Society (pdf) recommends 180 minutes of daily physical activity for toddlers and preschoolers, and 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity at least three times a week for kids aged five to 17.
These days, electronic devices are a “normal” part of childhood. A recent study found that kids spend an average of 3.6 hours a day looking at a screen, whether it’s a television, tablet or smart-phone. Combined with the amount of time children spend in school, doing homework and sleeping, that doesn’t leave much room to get in the recommended amount of physical activity.
So how can parents motivate their kids to get the exercise they need? Here are some strategies to consider.
Limit screen time
The Canadian Pediatric Society (pdf) recommends less than one hour per day of screen time for children under five, and two hours or less for kids aged five to 17. Consider setting a timer on your child’s device to indicate when it’s time to turn the device off. It's also a good idea to have another activity lined up for when screen time ends to help avoid lazy lounging.
Be a role model
When parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends make fitness a part of their daily lives, they're leading by example. If you get moving yourself, not only will you reap the benefits, but your children may feel inspired. Have your kids cheer you on at a volleyball game or a race; let them see you heading to the gym, playing sports or riding your bike to work. Making fitness a normal part of your routine makes it their “normal” too.
Make fitness a habit
Consider implementing a regular fitness routine at home. For example, make Sunday bike day or go for a walk every night after dinner. Have a family dog? Think about establishing a rotating timetable for who takes Rufus for walks and when (perfect for older children). If you schedule the activity as you would a swimming lesson or a yoga class, it will become routine.
Make it fun
If kids think staying fit means doing something they don't enjoy, they likely won’t be motivated to get moving. But if you show them how fun it can be, that’s a different story. For instance, start an impromptu soccer game in the park or invite a friend along on a hike. Have a race and see who can get to the stop sign, tree or front door fastest, play a fitness video game (although this is screen time, it’s active!) or turn up a great playlist and dance.
Let them choose
When it’s their idea, they’re a lot more likely to be enthusiastic about it. Letting your kids pick a fitness activity they are interested in can give them some extra encouragement. Just be prepared to follow through on whatever they choose – whether it’s with hockey equipment, martial arts classes, circus school, ballet costumes or fancy swimming goggles.
Whether you plant a garden with your child or send them outdoors with sidewalk chalk or a basketball, getting them out into the fresh air is key. Let your kids explore nature in the backyard, visit the local park or plan an excursion to a nearby nature reserve. Regular outdoor activity has many benefits for their physical and emotional development, such as helping to build confidence, promoting creativity and helping reduce stress and fatigue.
Think about how adults will go out of their way to get to 10,000 steps on their activity tracker. Why not try something similar with your kids? Smaller children often love sticker charts – for every hour of physical activity, put a sticker on the chart. Once the chart has five, 10 or 15 stickers, your child can “win” a small prize. For older children, try making physical exercise a task they can complete to earn extra allowance dollars.
No matter what strategy works best for you, getting your children active now ensures they form healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
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