How can I help my child be more active?

The most important thing you can do to help your child develop a healthy lifestyle is to set a good example from an early age. Active parents tend to have active children. Be active together as a family. Go for walks, hikes, bike rides. Go to the playground or walk around the zoo. Rake leaves together in the fall or start a garden. Sign up for charity races, 5k walks, etc. as a family. When your child is young, expose them to many different types of activities (little league sports, swimming, dance, karate, etc.). Then, as they get older, see which activities interest them the most and focus more attention on those. For children who are not as motivated to be active, it is important to find something they enjoy doing, so they will stick with it.
Keep healthy foods in the home. Avoid having chips, cookies, sodas, or sugar sweetened fruit drinks in the home. Keep healthy snacks such as apple slices and carrot sticks available. With picky eaters, eat meals together as a family - set a good example for your children by trying new foods in front of them.
Also set a good example by practicing good safety habits in front of your children - wear sunscreen when outdoors, always wear your seatbelt when in the car, wear a bike helmet when riding your bike, etc. 
It is very important that youths stay active through their formative years. Today, one in three teens is overweight or obese, for a variety of reasons. Some reasons include improved technologies and lack of exercise. With constantly improving technology, more youths are opting to stay inside versus getting out and being active. To avoid having children become sedentary, promote exercise, family meals, and less TV time, and encourage making better lifestyle choices.
Dr. Rovenia Brock, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
All children need opportunities to be physically active, but different activities are needed at different ages to spark development. Keep the following tips in mind:
  • Part of an infant's day should be spent in structured activity with a parent or caregiver -- playing peek-a-boo or patty-cake, being carried to and exploring new environments.
  • Do not keep infants or toddlers in baby seats or other restrictive settings for long periods. Even young infants move differently when placed on a blanket on the floor than when in a baby seat.
  • Toddlers should have at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and preschoolers at least an hour during each day. Play follow-along songs, chase, or ball. For older children, balancing games and tumbling increase strength and body control.
  • Toddlers and preschoolers should spend at least an hour, preferably more, a day in free play -- exploring, experimenting, imitating. Caregivers should provide safe objects to ride, push, pull, balance on, and climb.
  • Toddlers and preschoolers should not be sedentary for more than an hour at a time, except when they are sleeping.
  • Bring along your friend's children for playtime. Research shows that children who are alone a lot are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles.
  • Don't force physical activity or use it as punishment. Instead, it should be a routine part of daily life, and you should join in, not just sit on a park bench and watch the children romp. By all means, make it fun.
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It depends on the age of the child. Toddlers can be encouraged to play outside, either in a secure backyard or supervised at a playground. Their natural tendency to play, move and explore will provide all the exercise they need. School-age children will also enjoy play, but you can begin sharing activities like riding a bicycle, swimming, or hiking. They can also join recreational sports teams or activities such as dance, gymnastics, or martial arts and the like. Children also learn from watching what others model—stay active yourself, and your child will learn by example. Remember to limit screen time (TV, computer, and video games) to a total of less than two hours per day to minimize sedentary activity.

 You’ll definitely need to use your creativity and imagination to keep a child active through all the growing-up years. And remember, what applies to them should first apply to you! Here’s how:

  • Identify: Get a handle on her situation. Identify and overcome barriers to physical activity … from disabilities and time constraints to excuses and safety issues, identify and overcome barriers to increase her daily activity levels.
  • Inform: Show her what’s out there. Quantify quality exercise time at school, during PE or recess, and after school, whether it be a means of transportation, club activities, team sports, individual sports, or activity time … and discover where the opportunities lie. Let her explore these opportunities until she finds the right fit.
  • Instruct: Be her coach. Work with her to help learn and perfect new skills so she can feel good about her abilities. Also, let her know what the optimal amount of activity is for her needs and age … too little isn’t the only issue leading to health problems: too much can lead to social, emotional, and intellectual difficulties.
  • Instill: Push her. Encourage her to stick with whatever activities she enjoys, helping her ditch the excuses and avoid the activity thieves like the TV and telephone that take time away from more physical activities.

From Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children by Jennifer Trachtenberg.

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With cable television, video games, and the Internet, it's no wonder many children don't get enough exercise. Here is how you can help them become more physically active:
  • Ask them to list specific activities they can do for a set amount of time. Maybe it's kicking a soccer ball for 15 minutes, shooting baskets, or playing on a swing set.
  • Use a calendar to help them keep track of how much exercise they get each day.
  • Establish new routines, such as having them exercise before they watch television. They may resist at first, but they'll come around because exercising will make them feel good.
  • Just as you reward your kids for good grades, reward them for sticking with their new health habits.
You need to set a good example. If you don't exercise, it sends a negative message to your children. These tips will help you establish more active routines for your children. And who knows -- you may become more active as well.
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Active living at an early age begins a habit of lifelong physical activity and promotes a healthy weight. It also helps children learn a variety of body skills, mental skills and social skills - all of which develop when children have opportunities to move in their daily life.

Research shows children who watch more television, eat fewer family meals and live in neighborhoods perceived by their parents as less safe for outdoor play are more likely to be overweight.
As a parent, do all you can to encourage your kids to be active:
  • Balance sedentary play (such as reading together) with plenty of active play.
  • Choose day care that makes safe, active play a priority.
  • Set aside time each day for active play together: tossing a ball, playing tag or taking a family walk.
  • Designate an inside and an outside area that's safe, where your child can freely jump, roll and tumble.
  • Pick toys that "move" - a ball or tricycle.
  • Join a play group together.

Sometimes when it comes to kids you have to make the choice for them. As the parent, make them get off the couch and get outside. There will always be another episode of Sponge Bob on later! Make it fun for them to go outside by actually playing with them. Kids need to be taught about all of the fun activities they can do while they accidentally get exercise. 

  • Bike to the park. While at the park, help them try all of the different slides and monkey bars.  Be creative and make up an obstacle course for them. 
  • Go roller blading. If you don’t know how to roller blade, you can always walk around while they are blading around you.
  • Play tag. This game really gets everyone’s heart pumping and is a ton of fun!
  • Time each other racing around the house – who ever said that a little friendly competition isn’t fun?
  • Go for a walk. This is a great way to get moving and actually talk to your kids about their day, life and goals for the future.
  • Go on a hiking adventure. Kids love to get out the water bottles and hiking shoes to go explore the world – bring a small bag to collect any treasures they might find.

If you help your kids realize that the world is a fun amusement park, they will become more active, healthier adults. You will also benefit from the extra movement!

Be a role model!  It is important that children see others in their family being active.  Schedule time for the family to be active together.  Children do not have to be engaged in sports to be physically active.  Try playing active games together, such as, jumping rope, hopscotch, and hide-and-seek. Encourage your child to try a variety of activities.  This will offer them a better opportunity of finding an activity they will really enjoy.  Enjoyment is one of the biggest factors motivating physical activity.  Another important step parents can take to increase their child’s physical activity is to limit the number of minutes spent engaged in screen time (watching TV, playing on the computer, video games.  Children under the age of 2 years should not watch TV at all and children ages 2 and older should be limited to screen time of no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming daily.  Simply taking this important step should help you motivate your child to be more active.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.