Encouraging kids to get outdoors and be physically active is usually easier in the summertime. The hard part is finding ways for children to get moving and stay active year-round.
Making fitness a regular part of a child’s day has its challenges. For one, kids today have replaced outdoor play with sedentary pursuits, such as computer-based games, texting or Instagramming, and they are also involved in a lot more knowledge-based downtime, such as homework and studying, compared with other generations, said Melinda Sothern, a professor of health promotion at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Public Health in New Orleans.
In addition, schools might have only limited time set aside for students to have recess or physical education classes, Sothern said.
For all of these reasons, parents should try to provide children with as many opportunities as possible to play, move and be physically active before school, after school or during weekends, she told Live Science. One way that parents can do this is to tell kids to place their media devices in a tray by the front door when they get home from school. Then, they can encourage kids to spend 1 hour involved in some unstructured outdoor play in good weather, or to create areas to be active and play indoors during cold or rainy weather. [Hiking with Kids: 7 Tips for Getting Outside this Summer]
About one-quarter of children in the U.S. ages 6 to 15 are at least moderately active for 60 minutes a day on five or more days a week, according to data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES). Forty-two percent of children ages 6 to 11 get at least 60 minutes of moderate activity, however, only 8 percent of kids ages 12 to 15 got this level of activity, the CDC found.
Being more physically active not only benefits children’s physical health — by reducing their risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — but also improves kids’ mental well-being and social skills, and enhances their ability to learn and retain information, Sothern said.
When exercise is fun, children are willing to engage in it, said Felicia Stoler, an exercise physiologist and nutritionist in Red Bank, New Jersey. Kids are not wired to sit for 8 hours at a time, she said. [Top 5 Benefits of Play]
In previous generations, children may have played outside more and spent more time involved in unstructured recreation compared with kids today, who tend to do more organized recreation, Stoler said.
Live Science asked these two fitness experts to suggest ways that parents can help kids, from toddlers to teenagers, to get outdoors and be fit. Here is what they said.
Tips to get kids moving:
- Lead by example. Parents should be role models for their children by showing them that they prioritize an active lifestyle and make time for it, Stoler said. “It makes a big difference when a parent practices what he or she preaches,” she said. Parents don’t have to be superfit, but they should set an example, Sothern said. “Active parents typically have active children,” she added.
- Mix it up. Parents should also encourage kids to do activities other than those that the parents do, Stoler told Live Science. Expose children to a wide variety of sports and activities, so that they can find out what they like to do rather than feel confined to the same fitness activities their parents do.
- Be creative. Parents can be creative and make taking a walk more fun for kids, Stoler suggested. For example, a walk can turn into a scavenger hunt in your own neighborhood, if you draw up a list of things for children to find along the way, such as a fruit tree, a house with a red door or an out-of-state license plate parked in the driveway. Another idea is to play a game, such as “Follow the Leader” or “Simon Says,” in which the leader switches up the movements the walkers do at different points along the way, such as hopping, jumping, skipping and galloping, Stoler said. [10 Important Ways to Avoid Summer Tick Bites]
- Use fun equipment. Fill a tub with balls, jump ropes, racquets, Frisbees and other items that encourage outdoor yard games, Sothern said. In addition, create a physical activity center with safe, indoor active toys and games to have fun indoors when the weather is cold or rainy. “Call it ‘an imagination station,'” Sothern said, and include items such as hats, scarves and clothes for dress-up, puppets, music CDs, batons, indoor basketball hoops, foam balls, bean bags, the game “Twister” and toy musical instruments.
- Move during screen time. While watching TV as a family, stand up and do the “TV commercial boogie” whenever the ads appear on the screen, and keep moving during the entire break, Sothern recommended. [7 Ways to Short-Circuit Kids’ Mobile Addiction]
- Make it family time. Dedicate at least a half day over the weekend for family fun and fitness, Sothern suggested. Draw up a list of activities that the entire family can enjoy together — such as going for a bike ride, flying kites in a local park or participating in a fun run — and then put them on the calendar.