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Kid Fitness: When Your Child Won't Exercise

12 Tips to Get Your Couch Potato Moving
By Sarah Henry
WebMD Feature

Some children just aren't into sports, but that shouldn't mean they have to be glued to the tube. Creative kid fitness, experts tell WebMD, may be as simple as a walk in the park. Help your sedentary son or daughter discover the benefits and joys of physical activity with these 12 tips.

Kid Fitness Tip #1: Think outside the playing field.

Not everyone is drawn to organized sports such as soccer or baseball. Look for other activities your child will enjoy -- like dancing, rock climbing, swimming, or martial arts. And have patience -- it may take some trial and error before your kid finds the right fit.

"It's probably time to explore another option when your child is no longer having fun," says Eric Small, MD, a specialist in pediatric/adolescent sports medicine and author of Kids & Sports. "Keep trying different ideas until something clicks. It's important to get non-athletic kids motivated and moving so they can enjoy a lifelong habit of physical activity."

Kid Fitness Tip #2: Join in the game.

Kids love it when their parents play with them. So encourage children's fitness by taking a family hike. Have a game of catch. Walk or bike to school together. Play hopscotch. "You don't need a lot of fancy equipment or special classes to encourage your child to exercise," says Patricia Nixon, PhD, president-elect of the North American Society of Pediatric Exercise Medicine.

Kid Fitness Tip #3: Limit screen time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids get no more than one to two hours of screen time a day, whether that's watching TV, surfing the Internet, or playing video games. But many children spend four or more hours each day in front of a screen. Encourage active alternatives to these passive pastimes, such as shooting hoops at the local playground, walking the dog, or a game of tag.

To help keep temptation at bay, remove TVs from bedrooms and put the computer in a shared space where you can supervise. If you have teens, set guidelines about other sedentary pursuits like chatting on the phone or text messaging.

Kid Fitness Tip #4: Lead by example.

If you vegetate in front of the TV every night, the remote control in one hand and a bag of chips in the other, you're not practicing what you preach. And your kids aren't likely to respect restrictions you set on their screen time either. So check your own viewing behavior and serve as a role model by incorporating physical activity into your everyday life. When you can, walk instead of driving. Climb the stairs rather than wait for the elevator. Regularly participate in active pursuits that you enjoy and let your kids see -- and hear about -- how much you enjoy them.

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