Scores of recent studies have shown that now more than ever, the average child is simply not getting enough exercise, as evidenced by the shocking increase in childhood obesity rates over the past 30 years. There are a multitude of factors that have contributed to this disturbing trend: Safety concerns keep kids inside, the lure of video games keeps them glued to the television and their diet is riddled with processed foods. So how can you navigate around all these obstacles and still manage to encourage your child to be physically active? Here are some ways you can help your child see how important it is to make exercise a priority.
1. Set the example.
Kids will naturally imitate what they see their parents doing, so one of the best incentives to get a child to exercise is for them to see you engaging in regular exercise. Leading the way by example sends a strong message to your kids that exercise is a priority for your family.
2. Make it seem less like "exercise" and more like play.
One way to get your child moving is to engage in lively and playful activities that are also good forms of exercise. This can be something as simple as putting on some music and dancing or playing a game of freeze tag. Provide your child with different equipment and toys that will give them something fun to do, but also be a good form of exercise. Think bikes, inline skates, scooters and so forth. If you have preschool-age children, toys like tricycles, big wheels and pedal cars are always a favorite.
3. Exercise as a family.
One of the best ways to ensure that your child is exercising is for you to do it with them. Hiking a nature trail together, playing a game of backyard kickball or going on a family bike ride are all great ways to encourage more exercise and create great family memories at the same time.
4. Choose video games that encourage exercise.
Not all video games are bad; in fact, there are several interactive video games that can really make your child work up a sweat! For example, "Dance Central" and "Just Dance" (for the Xbox 360 with Kinect motion sensor) are both games in which your kid can practice choreographed dance moves to fun songs. If you have a Wiii gaming console, your child can play physically interactive games such as EA Sports Active 2, Exerbeat or Dance Dance Revolution II.
5. Find out what your child thinks is fun, and focus on that.
Simply put, if they don't enjoy it, they're not going to do it. If your child is a nature lover, then hiking may be the perfect choice. If they're an adventure seeker, you can try a rock climbing wall or a jungle gym. If they want to catch monster air on a skateboard like Tony Hawk, then put their helmet and pads on, and send them off. It may be baseball, basketball, parkour, bowling, tennis, lacrosse, football, rollerblading or any number of other physical activities; just make sure that they enjoy doing it, and that it's something that can keep them physically active.
You may have to poke around a little bit before you find the main activity that your child is interested in, but that's perfectly fine. Once they can zero in on a physical activity that they love to do, it will be hard to get them to stop exercising.
6. Bring a friend.
Kids love to do things with their peers, so if there's any time that you can invite a friend along for a day at the pool, a bike ride or a couple of hours at the roller skating rink, etc., so much the better. Having friends in the mix when your child is competing in team sports helps out as well.
7. Add physical activities to the regular family schedule.
If your child knows that Saturday morning is usually rollerblading time, or that the family always goes for a walk after dinner on certain weeknights, he/she will grow up with an understanding that physical activity is just a part of what your family does as a lifestyle. Keeping exercise on your weekly schedule will make it seem more like second nature and less like some oddball activity that you have to squeeze into your regular routine.
The more you integrate exercise into your regular lifestyle, the less it will seem like a chore that your kid has to struggle through. Make exercise fun, make it interactive and keep it lighthearted, and your child will naturally begin to prioritize physical activity in their life.