Do you think your kids get enough physical activity? Many parents would say “no.” But they may not know how to get their kids to start moving more.
But Amanda Rauf, who works with overweight kids and their parents, has good news. “You don’t have to set big goals or change everything about your lives.” You just need to focus on getting your kids to move a little bit more than they do now.
Exercise -- or not enough of it -- affects just about everything in a kid’s day: how they sleep, their energy levels, mood, and, of course, their weight and physical health. The benefits of moving are just too important for them to miss.
“When it comes to physical activity, something is so much better than nothing,” says Rauf, a psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. And once you have your kids doing something, you can build on it for greater health benefits. Set goals -- even small ones -- to get your family moving more every day.
Goal 1: Make a Plan
While experts say the ideal is for kids to get 60 minutes of activity a day, you need to focus on small improvements at first.
- Commit to moving more as a family. Sit down and talk about why it’s important for everyone in your family to get more active. And that means everyone. You can’t expect your kids to go outside while you lie on the sofa, watching TV or texting.
- Find an activity they enjoy. Your kids may see physical activity as boring or hard. Help them understand that it doesn’t have to be that way. “The most important way of predicting whether kids will stick with a physical activity is whether they think it’s fun,” says Natalie Muth, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Talk to your kids about what appeals to them. Be ready to try out different activities until you find one that feels right.
- Stick to a routine. “Physical activity has to be scheduled regularly,” says Mollie Grow, MD, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s. If you’re just trying to fit it in when you can, it will get shoved aside. So figure out a time that makes sense for your family -- maybe after homework or before dinner -- and commit to it.
Goal 2: Work More Movement into Your Lives
It pays to keep yourselves active throughout the day. Show kids that activity can be a part of regular life, not something they do once and then forget about.
- Walk more. It’s easy, your kids already know how to do it, and it has real benefits. Keep in mind that kids may find the idea of a walk for its own sake boring, Grow says. So give them a task or a destination. Ask them to walk the dog an extra 5 or 10 minutes. Or when you’re shopping, tell them to pick something up from the other side of the store or mall.
Think about fitness trackers for the whole family. Step counters and other trackers are getting popular with the grade school crowd, and Grow says they can be a great way to inspire physical activity. “Comparing steps with family members or friends can really motivate kids,” she says.
Some studies have found that fitness trackers don’t seem to have long-term weight loss benefits, but Grow thinks that isn’t the point. “These devices can inspire you to get moving, and that has health benefits that aren’t reflected by weight loss,” she says.
- Make weekends more active. Set aside time as a family every weekend for something that gets everyone moving. Have a dance party. Learn a new sport or game. Explore a new place in your neighborhood. Add physical activity to events that are usually not very active. Getting together with the grandparents? Instead of going over their house for dinner, meet at the park and bring a Frisbee, Grow says.
Goal 3: Ramp It Up
As you and your kids get more comfortable with physical activity, you can start to do more.
- Sign them up for a weekday activity. If they commit to taking a class or joining a team, you’ll know there’s a guaranteed spot for some vigorous activity built into their week, Rauf says.
- Consider joining a gym or YMCA. You could all hit the workout room together. Or they could play basketball with friends while you take a spin class. “Joining a gym or the Y is a financial investment,” Grow says. “But really there is no better place to invest your money than in your health.”
Take That First Step
“The hardest part is getting started,” Muth says. “Because once you start exercising, it’s easier to keep it going -- you start to feel so much better, you want to do it.”
So all you need to do is something. Just have your kids get their sneakers on and take a 10-minute walk today. That’s a success, and one you can all repeat tomorrow.