Nearly 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are obese, which is up from 10% in the early 1990s. Not only can obesity lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues, it’s also a leading reason why young adults are turned away by military recruiters.
Many of the same factors that contribute to obesity in adults contribute to obesity in children and teens, including poor dietary habits, lack of access to healthy food, increased time spent in front of TV and computer screens, and lack of sleep. Most people today also don’t get the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of exercise a day.
The benefits of exercise and outdoor play include improved mood, sleep, social skills, self-esteem, balance, strength, coordination, and endurance. Exercise helps school performance too; it’s linked to improved concentration, memory, and classroom behavior. Plus, playing outside with the kids offers a great way for parents to really connect with children, which is more important than ever for busy families.
Here are 6 ways to help optimize your child’s performance now and in the future:
- Make exercise part of your family’s routine. Kids with active parents tend to be more active, too. Go for walks after dinner, hikes on the weekend, or play active games together in the yard or park rather than watching TV.
- Encourage participation in sports or activities such as dancing, swimming, biking, or yoga. Getting your kids to be more active doesn’t stop at signing them up though. Showing your support by staying to watch practice and attending games, competitions, and recitals can go a long way in keeping your kids engaged and motivated.
- Structure screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting entertainment screen time to less than 2 hours a day. Set a schedule for when your kids can watch TV or be on the computer or handheld devices. In those off hours, get out and play!
- Make exercise more fun. Try listening to music or tracking your steps while you exercise. Making exercise into a game can help keep kids interested and excited.
- Let them fall. Parents often want to protect their children them from getting hurt, but it’s important to strike a balance between protecting them and being overprotective. Climbing and running around a playground helps build strength, coordination, and brain development. Be careful not to discourage the types of physical activity that could limit this potential for growth.
- Encourage your kids to keep trying. Losing a game, missing a shot, or not being able to perform a complicated move can be frustrating and can make your child want to quit. Rather than avoid failure, use it as a learning point. What can he or she practice differently or do better? Overcoming that loss or sticking point will be more rewarding in the end and keep your child interested and motivated.
Telling your kids to go out and play might not be enough to keep them active. But with a little bit of structure and lots of encouragement, you can promote a happy, healthy, and active lifestyle for your whole family.