by Dawn Billings
As parents, we want to do whatever we can to give our kids an opportunity to have healthy, productive and happy lives. We save for their college educations. We take them for regular doctor appointments. We buy them cute clothes. We try to make sure they eat the right foods; at least I hope that we are conscious of the foods our children are eating. But what about exercise? How much exercise do your children get each day?
Researchers tell us that kids who exercise regularly are less likely to struggle with their weight, but more importantly, they have less of a risk of developing type 2 diabetes and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than kids who sit around playing video games. In addition, studies show that they sleep better and handle physical and emotional stress more easily.
And here’s a key thing for parents to understand: the exercise habits your children form when they are young will likely be the ones they’ll carry with them into adulthood.
First, don’t make exercise feel like exercise. Exercise can feel like a hard job if it is boring and strenuous. There are many adults that dread “exercise”. We don’t want to make physical activity something our children dread. So first thing we must do it make moving, jumping and running around, FUN. Come up with a challenge. Who can do the most pushups in a minute? Who can swim the fastest lap in the pool? Race your kids to the mailbox. Or have them race each other. Children love the “Watch me” game. They will do anything over and over if you will just watch them. They’ll keep jumping in and out of the pool, they will continue to do cartwheels until they are dizzy, they will even race until they are ready to drop, if we will take the time to watch. What is better than watching - joining. Imagine how good of shape you could be in, if you ran, jumped and twirled with them? When kids are focused on a goal or trying to win, especially if they’re trying to beat their parents, exercise can be twice as fun.
Any parent knows that TV can make mush out of your child’s brain. So turn the TV off. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids under the age of 6 watch an average of 2 hours of TV a day, while kids and teens from 8 – 18 years spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV and almost 2 additional hours playing video games or spending time on the computer. Some experts agree that most children will spend more time watching television before the age of six-years-old then they will spend in sit down, face-to-face conversations with their dads over their entire lifetime.
Set limits on the amount of TV time your children can have. Find what works for your family and create a schedule for no TV on weekdays or weekends. The time freed up will open doors for other activities and a change of scenery can go a long way in turning the way your child experiences and remembers their life.
Whether your children are young or old, be intentional about getting outside with them. My son’s are 22 and 31 and we still all go to play putt-putt golf, or ride bikes or take a hike. Take advantage of local parks and nature trails. For your younger children, climbing on a play set and swinging from the monkey bars can be great exercise. Find out what sports or activities your kids enjoy and sign them up. Look into your city’s Parks and Recreation department and see what classes or teams are offered. If your children are older like mine, plan a hike and have them invite a friend. Or get them a new football or Frisbee and toss the first throw. Have your kids try a variety of activities, in doing so, they will find one or two they love and so will you.
Is your kids’ school within walking distance? If so, walk or ride bikes to school. What about their friend’s houses? If you have young children, walk with them instead of driving. Leave the stroller at home, and leave the house early so you have time to stop and let them look at bugs or smell the flowers without being late. Make getting to places an adventure. Children love adventures. If your kids are older, add something they might consider fun. Walk to the movie rental store and let them pick out the movie or video game. Ride bikes to soccer practice and have them lead the way. They may not be enthused about the idea at first, but your enthusiasm and example can be contagious. There are many side benefits to keeping your kids active. It requires that you stay active, and it’s good for the environment too.
Many people are busy trying to get a close parking spot. Make a fun habit of parking far away from the door. This small habit can adds thousands of extra steps for your entire family each week. Your children’s friends will talk about the experience with their parents and if they aren’t too busy making fun of you behind your back, they just might copy the idea for their family.
Maybe the most important thing parents can do to encourage our kids to be active is to be active in our own lives. Take the stairs instead of using elevators. Again, every step adds up. Make exercise a priority, even if you can only fit a ten-minute walk or a thirty-minute exercise video into your day. It will go a long way in reducing the stress that often comes with parenting. Kids learn more from what we do than what we say, and a child who grows up seeing his or her mom or dad living healthy, active lives will most likely follow in their running shoes.
Children need lots of fresh fruits and colorful vegetables to round out their nutrition. The better food we put into our bodies, the more energy we have. The more energy we have the more we feel like exercising for fun. Teach your children to love rainbows, especially when it comes to their food.
Don’t make exercise too hard or stressful and certainly do not lay around and not do enough to keep your kids strong. Find that place in your routine that is “just right”. Exercise does not have to be difficult to strengthen and benefit your children. The most important critical aspect of exercise is consistency.
Although I started with this one, I thought I'd end with it as well for dramatic emphasis. Honestly parents, the only thing you want to weigh a ton in your famly is FUN. We are facing a weight epidemic with our children. We need to make eating and working out fun and interesting. Our kids model our attitudes and beliefs. Whether they are watching our attitudes around food, exercise, or overall care for ourselves. Make health a fun and positive part of your everyday routine. Invite your kids to go bike riding, take a hike, and play tennis or jump rope. Bring them to the gym with you. Play basketball in the driveway. Whatever you do, the only thing you want to weigh a ton in your family, is FUN!
So, share about you. Did your parents teach you eat well, or to love exercise?
How do you fit exercise into your busy day, or what are the challenges you’ve faced in trying to do this? What are some of your kids’ favorite physical activities?
Do you have great ideas you can share with other parents?
I look forward to hearing your tips and thoughts.
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Dawn L Billings is an the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles on parenting, relationships, entitlement and networking, and an ardent advocate for women’s and children’s issues. Dawn is the CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Women’s Network, Trova Women Business Directory and Trova Small Business Directory and The Heart Alliance.com international women’s networking organizations and communities.
Dawn is the creator of the NEW Parenting Tool called Capables, a revolutionary parenting tool and Toddler toy that ends whining and tantrums for good. In 2008 Dawn was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House project as one of 80 emerging women leaders in the nation. Find out more and buy Dawn’s books, NEW Toddler Teaching Toys called CAPABLES Dawn is also the architect of the Primary Colors Personality Test