Exercise is essential to good health and fitness, and studies also have demonstrated that exercise contributes to overall happiness by improving our mood. In spite of the known benefits of exercise, physical inactivity has become a serious problem for adults and children alike in the United States.
Many adults and children today are victims of the age of automation. We are driven to and from work and school. Once we arrive at our destination, we spend the majority of the day sitting at a desk, engaged in activities that may work our mind but do little to keep our bodies fit. At the end of the work or school day, we arrive home only to spend more hours sitting in front of the television or computer. In addition to not getting enough exercise, we tend to consume high calorie, high fat, nutritionally lacking snacks during our periods of inactivity.
Current recommendations state that children and adults should strive for at least 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise. This goal can be met through a wide range of family activities that not only will provide exercise but enjoyment as well. Parents need to become role models for their children at an early age. If your children see that you are physically active and having fun while you exercise, they are more likely to be active and stay active later in their lives.
Here are some simple ways to increase your family's level of physical activity:
Plan a family hike through a scenic park. If you announce to your children that everyone in the family will be required to take a 2-mile walk on Saturday, chances are good that your idea will be met with resistance. However, if you turn the walk into a family outing and allow your children to participate in the planning, your children will be more likely to cooperate.
Challenge your children to a basketball, volleyball, tennis or baseball game. Children like the idea of competing against adults. They are likely to have fun, and, at the same time, everyone physically benefits from this activity. This also promotes being active at any age.
Join a community center that offers fitness and recreational programs. Check out your local YMCA or department of recreation. Many of these organizations offer community sports, and some also have swimming pools, skating rinks and fitness centers that the entire family can enjoy.
If your child is involved in organized sports, offer to help out. Coaching is not the only way to get involved in your child's sports program. Offer to help at the concession stand or transport children to and from games. If you stay involved in your children's activities, chances are greater that they also will wish to remain involved.
Emphasize fitness and fun, rather than competition and perfection. Not every child is going to be a great athlete. When children are made to feel inferior, they tend to withdraw from organized sporting activities.
When picking indoor activities, select those that will offer some type of physical activity. Bowling, skating or touring a museum are better choices than seeing a movie.
Allow your children to include their friends when you are planning your exercise activities. Establishing friendships and forming peer groups are of vital importance to your children. Your children will be more likely to want to participate in activities that include their friends.
Discuss ways that everyone can be more active in daily life. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from mall entrances. Take a short walk after dinner. Don't drive somewhere that you can easily walk.
Limit the amount of time that is spent watching television and playing video and computer games. Allow your child to select one or two favorite programs and do not leave the television turned on continuously. (Studies show that the average American child spends about 24 hours each week watching television.) Bargain with your children. For every hour of television they watch, get a commitment for equal time engaged in physical activity.
Try not to take away physical activities as punishment for your child. Exercise promotes good health and is needed on a daily basis. If necessary, withhold other activities that will not interfere with your child's need for physical activity.
Don't stifle informal play. While organized team sports have value, encourage your children to "play" often. Some of the best ways to promote fitness and creativity are through playing outside with friends.
Openly support physical education and recess at your child's school. With so much emphasis on classroom learning, physical education time is constantly fighting the chopping block of school budgets.