Getting Kids to Exercise: Have Fun
When it comes to kids, "Exercise should be a treat," says Sarah Hampl, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. Hampl runs an obesity treatment program there for children ages 2 through 12. "Kids like to have fun, and they like to have a choice about what they do," she says. Offer your children a variety of options, from playing Frisbee or skateboarding to horseback riding or team sports. Let them figure out which ones they truly enjoy.
For family time in the evening or on weekends, Hampl suggests picking activities for kids that everyone can do. Go for a bike ride, play catch, or shoot hoops. Keep it carefree and low-key, rather than overly serious or competitive.
Be creative about slipping some spontaneous activity into your routine. Offer a "commercial challenge" to get kids up off the couch during TV. See who can hop on one foot the longest or run the fastest during the commercial breaks. Or put on music and dance while you're doing household chores.
Activities for Kids: Little Ones, School-Aged, and Teens
Whatever your kids' ages, they're not too young -- or too old -- to get in on the fun as long as you offer activities that are right for their age. Here are some suggestions.
- Make a walk into an adventure. "Have family members take turns calling out a different type of walk every half-block," says Pillarella. For example, you could skip, take giant steps, or walk like an elephant.
- Play simple, active games. Kids naturally like to play. Remember the games you liked when you were a little kid? Chances are, your child will also like a brisk game of Simon says, hide-and-go-seek, red light-green light, or ring-around-the-rosy, Hampl says.
- Consider a class or team. "This is a good age to start some structured activity," Bartell tells WebMD -- whether it’s a dance class, Little League baseball, or a school team sport. "Don’t just drop them off and leave every time," she says. "Watch them and cheer them on sometimes. Let them know you’re excited for them."
- Encourage active after-school play. "When friends come over, tell them the rule for play dates is no TV or computer," Bartell says. Send kids outside and let their imaginations set the pace of play.
- Limit screen time. Bartell recommends limiting home use of cells phones, TVs, and computers (except for homework) to a total of two hours a day. If your teen is very attached to electronics, slowly reduce the time. You need to come up with a plan that works for your family.
- Get away for the day. An active family day trip is a great way to spend time with older kids, says Bartell. Hike at a state park, cycle a nearby trail, or canoe around a lake. Make it a group trip -- at this age, Bartell says, teens may be more enthusiastic about coming with you if they can bring a friend along.
Raising active kids when you're not used to being active doesn't have to be difficult. It just takes a different mind-set than you're used to. Be open to the everyday exercise opportunities around you and enjoy them. "The most successful families are those who are in it together for the long haul," Pillarella says.