During the past two decades the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled. The Economic Institute in Washington DC has estimated that as many as 8 out of 10 children under the age of 7 are overweight, and another study has shown that ½ of all Americans between 12 – 21 years old are not physically active regularly. It has been well documented that children learn behavior early in life and they pattern themselves after the adults they look up to. In order to reverse the trend over the recent times, it is up to the family as a unit to become more active and perform exercise and play activities together.
As with many noble ideas and causes, the questions become how to get started and what is the best approach.
There are a few key ingredients to remember when beginning a family exercise program.
1. When communicating with your kids, stay away from using the word exercise. They may tend to think of this as a chore and will be reluctant to try. Instead use fun, spirited and light terms to describe the activity.
2. Try to make the activity outside. Kids, and adults for that matter, are spending too much time indoors with TV, videogames and computer tasks. We need to change the environment so that the kids will be able to separate the active component from the sedentary, task components of their lives.
3. Find out what the kids like to do and involve them in the planning of the activities. Again we do not want the kids to feel like this is a chore that needs to be done, but instead we want them to look forward to this and feel like this is fun, a reward.
4. When first beginning an exercise or activity program, consult with your family physician or pediatrician to make sure that all involved are healthy enough for the rigors of the program.
There are as many different options for your family activities as there are for kids. A few examples are:
1. Go for walks or bike rides around the neighborhood. This will get you outdoors as well as be visible to your neighbors, thus becoming role models for others.
2. Water activities at a local pool in the summer.
3. Plan social outings that involve activities such as roller skating, ice skating or trips to the zoo where walking is encouraged.
4. Play active games outdoors such as tag, capture the flag or other games that we used to play growing up. Also, organize the neighborhood to have regular game time that involves multiple kids and families.
5. Have Olympics. Organize activities that your kids like and make them into an Olympic or Decathlon format with prizes and rewards.
6. Have treasure hunts that make the family have to crawl, jump, climb etc to be able to find the hidden treasure.
7. If it is raining or other poor weather teach your kids the dance moves from your day and have them show you their moves.
The most important aspect to any exercise or activity program is to make sure it is regular. Schedule time so that these activities become a daily habit. Inactive youths become inactive adults as a large percentage. The earlier we change from bad habits to good habits, the more likely we are that these will become ingrained. If you are still having difficulty with getting started, there are programs that are designed to help such as the WiL Power Challenge by Foothills Sports Medicine. This is a 3 month program designed as a weight and body measurement reduction program for youths that involves the whole family in exercise and proper nutrition. For more information on WiL Power Challenge call 480-706-1161 extension 19.
The benefits of exercise are many and include the physical: weight loss, lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, as well as emotional: improved self confidence and self esteem, being more outgoing and socially active. When you factor in the increased time the family spends together and the fun you will have with one another, everyone benefits.