Children in the United States are overweight and inactive in alarming numbers. The percentage of fit kids is falling as obesity statistics are on the rise. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to take charge and instill healthy habits in your children, encouraging kids’ fitness activities and creating lifestyle changes that last into adulthood.
First, the bad news.
As a nation, we’re facing an epidemic of inactivity—and it’s affecting our youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the percentage of children and adolescents in the U.S. that are obese has more than tripled since the 1970s. The Journal of Pediatrics reports that more than 40 percent of 16 to 19-year-olds are obese and 26 percent of two to five-year-olds are overweight or obese. Our increased obsession with screen time surely plays a role. A recent study shows that even kids under two years old are spending an average of three hours of screen time daily.
Now, the good news.
On the bright side, research shows that fit kids are more likely to stay fit as adults. Habits started early become one’s norm, and therefore an active childhood will likely set the stage for a lasting healthy lifestyle. And fitness for kids is not just about learning healthy habits. This report shows that fit kids have improved lung function later in life.
But let’s be real. Getting ourselves, much less our kids, out the door to exercise can be a challenge. There’s so much to do every day—between work, school, homework, chores, and all that screen time—it’s easy to see how exercise can take a backseat. It’s important as adults to make fitness a priority, and in turn encourage our kids’ fitness goals. The key to fitness for kids is finding ways to make exercise fun and rewarding. Here are some tips that can help motivate your kids to embrace and enjoy fitness activities.
Be the example.
Don’t just plop down in front of the TV when you have free time. Your kids will take cues from you, so in order to raise fit kids you need to be a fit adult.
Figure out what motivates your kids.
Everyone is different, and that includes kids. Some are competitive, while others like to exercise just for fun. Some want to play and work out with friends, others enjoy exercising as a family, and others are far too embarrassed to take a class with their parent. Figure out what works for your kids and support them accordingly.
Educate your kids.
Children constantly question the “why” of things, so explain why exercise is important. Armed with this info, your kids are much more likely to embrace healthy activities. Make a family commitment to learn about exercise and nutrition together; then practice what you learn through active family outings and healthy home cooking.
Combine exercise with chores.
Assign household chores to your kids that require physical activity. Walking the dog, raking leaves, gardening, and stacking wood are all great ways to work out while doing work.
Mix it up.
Kids get bored easily, so try to keep their exercise options fresh and fun. Take walks, ride bikes, shoot hoops, go hiking, kick a soccer ball, head to the pool—try anything that gets your family moving. In addition to traditional sports, consider sledding, jumping rope, or let-loose dance parties.
If you’ve cajoled your kid into joining the soccer team, be sure you’re there on the sideline to cheer them on. If your child expresses interest in joining a gymnastics club or a climbing gym, do everything you can to support them with the right equipment and rides to and from practice.
Let them choose.
The options for kids’ fitness activities are endless, so don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t like the same types of exercise that you enjoy. Let them choose and try new things until they find the ones they love.
Make it a team effort.
While your child is at swim practice, do your own swim workout in an open lap lane. Go together on off days and practice what they’ve learned, or even race each other. If you’re a runner, invite your kid to ride a bike alongside while you run. Train for a 5K run/walk together, or tackle a new family hike every weekend.
Invite their friends.
When all the cool kids are doing it, exercise is so much more fun. Invite your children’s friends to join your family hikes. Create a Saturday morning boot camp for all the neighborhood kids. Many of their parents may also want to attend.
Do it together for a cause.
Add meaning to your kids’ fitness activities by working out for a cause. For example, train for a 5K or 10K while fundraising for a local non-profit. If you have a friend or family member who is battling cancer or another difficult health diagnosis, training while raising funds for research is a wonderful way to help your children deal with the situation.
Make it a tradition.
Create a weeknight tradition of a family walk and talk every evening after dinner. Not only will you benefit from regular exercise, you may be surprised at how much your child will open up and share with you when given this dedicated time.
Incorporate small changes for big impact.
Opt to take the stairs over the elevator, park at the far end of the parking lot, and walk or bike to work or school whenever possible. Teach this “tiny efforts for big gains” behavior to your kids.
Track progress in a positive way.
Create a calendar of your family’s fitness activities, complete with key milestones and rewards. Consider having every family member sign a “contract” commitment for better health to keep everyone accountable.
Reward their success.
Most kids love earning rewards. Set expectations such as 30 minutes of exercise each afternoon, and in turn allow them a special treat every week. You can even use screen time as a reward—just make sure they exercise first.
Two words: Harry Potter.
Is your kid a Harry Potter fan? (Did anyone answer no to that?) Encourage their fitness goals with the ultimate reward: a BlenderBottle® shaker from our Harry Potter series, featuring the emblem of their house or their favorite Harry Potter icon.
How do you and your family stay active together? What’s worked for you in terms of getting your kids active? Share your experiences in the comments below.