Mr. Norris, my child eats OK because, as her parent, I make sure of it. However, I can’t get her to exercise to save my life. What do you do to motivate a couch potato kid? – C. Duval in La Jolla, Calif.
The headline of one recent news report on the status of children’s health said, “Inactivity is U.S. kids’ biggest health problem, poll says.”In this installment, I want to tackle some exercises you don’t have to work hard at getting your children to do. In fact, they won’t be able to resist these opportunities for elevated aerobic exercise.
No doubt their inactivity has been influenced by streams of digital and electronic equipment, which don’t make them expend much physical energy at all, apart from moving their fingers and sitting on their derriere.
One friend said to me, “If it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn’t get any exercise at all.”
Well, if inactivity is the diagnosis, activity is the prescription.
And activity doesn’t have to mean intense workouts, especially for children. In the Mayo Clinic’s “5 medication-free strategies to help prevent heart disease,” it says, “Try getting at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week.”
The question with kids is, “How?”
First, you’ve got to put limits on their use of electronic devices and time spent using social media. Handing a child a cell phone or gaming device without time boundaries and then not encouraging his extracurricular activity is a recipe for creating a couch potato kid.
Certainly, as kids age, we want to teach and encourage their discipline in good eating habits and proper exercise – whether they like them or not. But in order to capture their mind, heart and bodily energy, why not create a physical fitness world around playtime?
Here are just a few classics that come to mind: hopscotch, wheelbarrow races, red rover, tag, hide-and-seek, capture the flag and kickball.
Want to entice your kids to engage in them? Buy the chalk for hopscotch, a ball for kickball, a basketball and hoop, a badminton or volleyball set, a ping-pong table or some skates (roller or ice), and, of course, there’s nothing better than a good ol’ bicycle.
Another alluring idea is to create a competition among their friends for some prizes – e.g., yummy, healthy desserts, fad prizes, a night of laser tag or free entrance to a movie. Or buy some trophies for some competition awards, and encourage your kids to have an award presentation at the end of their tournament. Throw in a little music during the competition, and you’ll likely ratchet up the competitors’ energy and performance.
Another option is to buy your kids some outdoor play equipment. Not so pricey are Frisbees, footballs, kickballs and beach balls. A little more pricey but just as effective is playground equipment, including slides they have to climb up to, swings they have to sway on and bars they have to pull up to. A doughboy (free-standing) swimming pool leads to a number of water games, which are resistance exercises.
Look around your neighborhood and get creative. Some people build community treehouses or tree swings into lakes or rivers. One neighborhood I know of helped their kids to create a bike track, where the kids would congregate every afternoon for races. You can bet that will get their hearts racing, too!
Of course, signing your kids up for sports is always an excellent option. Examples include soccer, baseball, basketball, football, hockey and tennis, or how about martial arts? I guarantee that last one will keep them in shape! There are also all the seasonal activities, such as waterskiing or snow skiing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and snowshoeing; even snowball fights can work up a great sweat.
Anything that gets your kids active and their muscles moving and heart pumping for 30 to 60 minutes a day will do the trick. And the added benefit is that many of these fun activities or sports can become family bonding times, as well, as you rally around one another to cheer one another on.
Exercise doesn’t always have to be hard work. It can be fun work. Discover the activity that is popular among your children’s age groups, and then encourage their participation. Odds are they can find at least one activity at every age that they will enjoy while they exercise.
In the next and last part of my series on children’s health, I will discuss maximizing your children’s brainpower and potential.