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Encouraging Exercise in Your Kids

The ABCs of getting your kids outside and active

C Is for Choices

Like adults, children have distinct personalities, and what one thrives on might bore another. "Some children are naturally social and energetic," says Muldoon. "Some are physical. Some are creative and some intellectual. What stimulates one child may have absolutely no appeal to another."

Choice is the key. For children that flourish with free-play activities, there's jump-rope, gardening, hop-scotch, hikes in the woods, or walks to school. Some families go in for kickball, tag, or hide-and-seek. Fall is a great time to build stick forts and gather autumn leaves for a collage, while winter brings with it the fashioning of snow families and other icy fun.

For kids who like more structure, there are dance classes, sports teams, and the YMCA/YWCA. Experts like Mark J. Occhipinti, PhD, president of American Fitness Professionals & Associates, recommend strength training as a great route to fitness. "Children should be strong," says Occhipinti, and strength training "develops strong bones, confidence, balance, and coordination."

Supervised strength training (everything from climbing to medicine balls to weights) helps kids develop into healthier, stronger adults, says Occhipinti. Just ask the photogenic governor of California; Arnold Schwarzenegger took up strength training when he was just 14 years old.

D is for Doctor

Before kids duck out for hide-and-seek or endeavor to become millionaire bodybuilders, most experts agree they may need a trip to the doctor before starting an exercise program.

If a child is overweight, has a medical condition, or symptoms of any type (chronic shortness of breath, for example), then a physical is "a good preventative precaution," says Occhipinti. A doctor can also check on your child's physical development and even make recommendations for activities.

And don't forget a checkup for yourself, especially if you haven't been active for awhile.

Rescuing Recess

If, along with encouraging your kids to get active at home, you want to be sure they enjoy the same prospects through school recess, get active. A few tips from IPAUSA include:

  • Talk with your child's classroom teacher to find out if, when, and how often your child has recess.
  • If you're less than pleased with the answer, coordinate with your school parent association and plan a visit to the principal to discuss recess and your concerns.
  • Finally, band together with other schools within your district and plan a community play day.


Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Going beyond fitness, getting active, and playing with others helps kids form relationships, negotiate social situations, solve problems, and develop tools to teach them about the strength of their own character, says's Michell Muldoon. And many, including the IPAUSA, believe play -- specifically recess -- enhances learning, meaning more academically focused kids and better grades in reading, writing and ... well, you get the idea.

But "the most important consideration," sums up Muldoon, "is that we make sure our children have a chance to experience the magic of play and the richness of a community," so that kicking a ball in the park, scrambling across the monkey bars, and rolling downhill until dizzy continue to remain child's play.

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Reviewed on November 05, 2004
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