Getting a child to exercise can be a real challenge for some parents, especially if their son or daughter doesn’t like sports, isn’t athletically gifted, or prefers watching TV or playing video games. Still, this is one battle that’s worth fighting, as reports a study earlier this year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The study found that students who exercise regularly miss fewer classes, are less likely to engage in risky or antisocial behavior, concentrate more, and attain higher test scores.
In this tough economy, when many school districts are trimming their budgets by trimming gym classes, and with more children overweight than ever, finding creative ways to get your children up and about has never been more important.
Here are four simple steps to get your kids moving to something other than the couch, refrigerator or game chair:
- Rake in the health benefits. Some outdoor chores, such as raking leaves, can really get the heart pumping. To get the job done, kids have to use their legs and upper body. They need to lift and to pack and pull bags. Granted, they won’t need to rake leaves every day, but doing so even once or twice a week during the fall is a great start. Moreover, they can always mow the lawn in summer and shovel snow in winter.
- The chore way to get your kids off of the couch. Even though most household chores aren’t rigorous enough to be called exercise, they’re definitely better for the body than sitting on the couch. You could ask your son or daughter to sweep or mop the floor, vacuum, take out and bring in the recycling bins or garbage cans, clean up his or her room, fold clothes, empty the dishwasher, set and clean off the table, walk the dog, wash the car. The possibilities are endless. Even if it takes just a few minutes a day to complete one of these tasks, that’s a few less minutes they’ve spent lazing around. Over time, those minutes will add up to a healthier child…and a cleaner house!
- Play (the right) video games. While many video games are designed to keep kids glued to their seats, there are some great exercise games (exergames) that are specifically made to get players moving. Dance Dance Revolution is a good example. In this game, players who want to win have to mix lower body movement and coordinated footwork. The Kinect system involves physical interaction with every game such as jumping, waving arms, reaching up and down or to the side. There is no shortage of titles centered on age-appropriate workout routines. Kids might need to run in place, shadow box, kick the air, do sit-ups and push-ups, and more. A study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, published last March in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that middle-school students who played exergames increased the amount of calories burned by as much as 800% compared to when they were inactive—an amount that was at least as good as treadmill walking. And the students probably had fun doing it.
Exercise your rights. As a parent, there’s nothing wrong with telling your child it’s time to exercise. Granted, this isn’t always easy, but it’s probably worth the headache (or body ache, if your child wants you to exercise with him or her). Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be super-intense to be effective. Maybe your child would like to start with a walk or bike ride around the block, a few minutes of jumping rope, playing hula hoop, throwing a Frisbee, or enjoying a game of kickball. As those activities get easier, step up the routine so that it adds more time or energy.