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Health & Parenting

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Make Kids’ Fitness Fun and Safe

WebMD Feature

Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled among kids in all age groups. How can you keep your child from joining the obesity epidemic? Keeping a child healthy and fit means keeping them active. Ideally, you can do that both at home and in activities at gyms, health clubs, and in after-school sports. But what if your child won’t set foot in a gym or participate in school sports? Here’s how to keep your child fit and active, happily and safely.

Make Time for Fitness and Family

The best way to get your child active is to be active yourself, says Brian Grasso, founder and CEO of the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). “If Mom and Dad aren’t active, the kids won’t be either.” He recommends setting aside as little as 15 minutes a day for “family fitness time,” just like homework time, dinnertime, and bath time.

Children do best in a “free play” environment where they can explore movement on their own, Grasso advises. So “family fitness time” doesn’t mean an organized program of jumping jacks and calisthenics. Instead, depending on your child’s age and abilities, you could try:

  • Simon Says. Make sure to include a lot of hopping on one foot, stretching and reaching, and jumping up and down.
  • Obstacle courses. In your backyard (or in the basement if the weather is bad), set up an obstacle course with balls, cones and hula hoops.
  • “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Pick up the great book by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and stage a “bear hunt” through your house, up and down stairs, lifting your feet high through “swishy swashy” grass and fighting against the mud pits and snowstorm.
  • Nerf or related games. Grasso plays army games using Nerf guns with his sons, 6 and 4, pretending to crawl through the jungle.

Experts agree that the goal is to make fitness fun and creative. “The key thing is that it shouldn’t look like fitness from an adult’s perspective. It has to be fun,” says Grasso. “You’re not an aerobics instructor. Take turns copying each other. Once you tie physical activity to fun in a child’s brain, then it becomes part of their life. The two keys are that it must be fun, and it must be movement-oriented.”

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