Summer Fitness For Kids
While kids look forward to summer break all year long, parents may find these school-free months a little more challenging. Not only are kids underfoot more than usual, they may start to chant, "Mom, we're bored!" a few weeks into vacation. After the novelty of eating popsicles and splashing in the sprinkler wears off, you might find the kids sacking out on the floor with a Playstation and a bag of chips.
Limit Unproductive Downtime
More devices than ever entice kids into the house and onto the couch. Television, computers, video games: so much passive entertainment can become a bad thing if kids favor surfing the Internet over playing at the park.
To head off this problem before it becomes an issue in your household, start by trying to limit screen time to an hour per day. "Screen time can be TV, video games or computer time," says Kim Danger, a mother of one and owner of Mommysavers.com, a Web site offering support for moms.
Limiting the amount of time kids veg out indoors can help prompt them to choose more active pastimes outside. Not that downtime indoors automatically means being lazy. "Inactivity isn't bad as long as it is constructive time. Use it as time to draw, work on puzzles or read," she says.
Once kids are temporarily unglued from the computer screen, what are some of the best ways to get them moving and interested in staying that way?
"If it were up to my son, he would be happy sitting in front of the TV all summer playing video games," says Debra Hilfstein, a mother of four near Buffalo, N.Y. "Getting him out of the house with an activity that has a beginning and end has been the best way to keep him active."
For Hilfstein, this often means scheduling sports clinics or theater camp for her children. But be sure you talk to your child before signing him up for anything. Is it really something he'll enjoy? If not, is there another activity he'd rather try this year? A child is far less likely to appreciate being active if he detests horses and finds himself attending horse camp four weeks out of the summer. "You and your child may even want to sit down and make a list of all the fun things to do outdoors during the summer," says Danger. "That way, you can refer back to the list when you're looking for something fun to do."
Planned activities like baseball camp aren't everyone's cup of tea, especially if money is tight in your household. "I take my kids on hikes through the woods, go rollerblading, and we organize kick ball games with other kids in the neighborhood," says Denise Nero, a certified personal fitness trainer who works with children. The pool is also a good place to meet other parents and have a chat while the kids enjoy the water.
The Importance of Exercise
But does it really matter if school-age children spend these months vegging out and enjoying a leisurely life of television and video games? Is exercise as important to kids as it is to adults? Many experts think it is.
"It is important for kids to learn exercise habits at a young age to keep their hearts strong and to prevent the many diseases associated with obesity," says Nero. "If kids learn exercise at a young age, those habits will likely stay with them throughout their life."
Charles Kuntzleman, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, suggests that children need at least one hour of physical exercise or activity a day to develop their muscles and bones properly. "Take them to the park as often as possible and let them play freely," he says. "After they have played for a half-hour or more, then try and get them to kick or throw a ball, throw a Frisbee or play tag with you chasing after them."
He emphasizes that for kids of school-age and younger, play should be just that – play. Forcing kids to undertake a sport or activity they don't appreciate will teach them to turn away from exercise rather than enjoy it.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concurs with Kuntzleman that children over the age of 2 should get 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily for the greatest health benefit. The organization reports that weight-bearing exercise, or activity that relies on your feet and legs carrying your weight, helps build strong bones. Some weight-bearing activities your kids might enjoy include:
- Walking or hiking: Hand your kids the dog's leash and send them around the block. Or pack up some friends and head out to explore nearby nature trails.
- Running or jogging: Set up a neighborhood field day where kids participate in different types of races – long-distance jaunts, dashes. Kids can have fun "training" for their big event and then showing off their speed to friends and family.
- Jumping rope: Always a summertime favorite. Buy a book or find a Web site describing different types of jump rope rhymes and routines.
- Dancing: On rainy days, put in a CD or video designed to get kids moving.
- Rollerblading or skating: These popular activities are great for school-age kids, as long as they practice safe skating with the proper gear – helmets, knee pads and elbow pads.
Be a Role Model
Even with these fun ways to get moving, why don't kids always embrace exercise as a fun way to pass time? Kuntzleman says we send the wrong messages to kids. For example, "Win a ball game, go to the Dairy Queen, lose a game and take a lap," he says. Kids also see sedentary adults, including moms and dads who reward themselves for big accomplishments with a big dinner or complain about making time to work out and stay fit.
Kuntzleman adds that parents can encourage their kids to exercise by setting a good example and being active alongside their kids. Incorporating exercise – like a hike, bike ride or canoe trip – into a family vacation is a great way to interest the whole family in being fit. "Make activity a part of your family life," he says.
Kathy, a mother of one in Rhoadesville, Va., feels she has already instilled in her daughter that walking is not only fun, but also healthy. "We walk everywhere we can. And she loves it. When it rains, we walk around the mall or stores to stay active," she says. Danger also finds herself modeling a love of physical activity for her daughter. "I love swimming, so I take her to the pool and the lake in the summer. My husband I both enjoy walking and biking, so we do that as a family," she says.
Even if you're not in the habit of exercising or think you're too busy to model fitness for your kids, this summer is a good time to start. "Though I work full time, I take daily walks at home, as late as 9 p.m., to fit in my physical activity," says Hilfstein. "During the summer, my two older kids will join me on my walks with their bikes or Roller blades." Not only does an active family enjoy better health, but participating in a variety of physical activities can help parents and kids find more time to spend together than if everyone was glued to the TV all summer.
The habits you start with your kids today will last beyond the final swim of summer. Understand the importance of physical fitness and get moving. Your kids will reap the benefits for a lifetime.