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How to Get Your Kids to Exercise & Prevent Childhood Obesity

By Heather Levin

obese child sickWe have an unprecedented overweight and obesity epidemic. The condition continues to worsen, striking younger and younger age groups.

In fact, the UK Department of Health has issued new physical activity guidelines urging parents to make sure their toddlers exercise. The UK, just like the U.S., struggles under an obesity epidemic. In the United States, one in three children are either overweight or obese.

Not only does obesity result in significant health issues for children, it can also lead to crippling, financial devastation in the form of massive, never-ending health bills.

The Harmful Effects of Childhood Obesity

Research has proven that overweight and obese children have severe health risks. According to the Washington Post, which published an in-depth, five-part series on childhood obesity, every major organ has potential health risks when a child is overweight or obese, and damage can be irreparable.

obese boy hamburgerChildren who struggle to maintain healthy weight may develop pre-diabetes and diabetes. They can also develop heart disease, gallstones, and high blood pressure, conditions usually seen only in adults. Overweight and obese children can also develop severe muscle, joint, and skeletal problems because their growing bodies have to work harder to accommodate extra weight.

They can also struggle with psychological issues like poor self-esteem and depression. In addition, according to research conducted at the University of Michigan, overweight and obese children have a dramatically higher chance, around 80%, of becoming overweight or obese adults. Fat cells pump out a host of hormones which can permanently change a child’s metabolism. These hormones affect children’s weight and health for the rest of their life.

Many doctors and economists fear for these young generations. For the first time in our history, children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Experts estimate that younger generations will see at least a 5-year drop in their lifespan, and some even feel this is a drastic underestimate.

Overweight and obese children also have a high chance of developing serious conditions decades earlier than they normally would; putting them out of work or even ending their life during their most productive years. This puts an enormous strain on our healthcare system, as well as government programs that help disabled Americans. It may also lead to a talent shortage in the workforce, causing us, as a nation, to slip behind.

Yes, this paints an incredibly grim picture for our kids, and the future of our country. But parents can start taking action to reverse these trends.

Getting Your Kids to Exercise More

According to doctors and researchers at the University of Michigan, physical activity has the biggest impact on your kids’ health. But wait, you might ask. Doesn’t food play the biggest role in my children’s health? Yes, kids must eat healthy, nutritious foods, and not overindulge in sweets, junk food, or fast food, but exercise also significantly impacts the health of children.

Doctors state that the calorie consumption between obese and non-obese kids has many similarities, but the level of physical activity is different. Obese kids seem to eat the same amount of food as non-obese kids, but obese children have less physical activity.

Exercising will help your children avoid health problems later in life. So how can you get your kids to be more active?

1. Be a Good Role Model

Your children watch you and emulate your actions. If you want your kids to become healthy, active adults, then you need to be a healthy, active adult. Start indoor workouts at home, sneak a workout routine into your day, and include healthy superfoods in your family’s diet.

Your attitude towards healthy eating and exercise can also influence your children. If you complain about exercising, your kids will also see exercising as a chore. Try to stay positive!

2. Strive for an Hour a Day

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical exercise every day. Divide the exercise into three areas:

  • Aerobic exercise gets the heart pumping faster, and helps develop lung capacity. Aerobic activities include running, skipping, jumping, swimming, dancing, and biking.
  • Muscle-building exercises make the muscles work harder. Muscle-building activities include playing on playground equipment, climbing trees, and playing tug of war. Structured muscle-building exercises including doing push-ups and lifting weights.
  • Bone-strengthening exercises cause force on the bones; this helps strengthen bones and promote growth. Bone-strengthening exercises include hopscotch, running, jumping rope, playing basketball, and playing tennis.

family kids exercising

3. Turn Off the TV

According to research conducted by the University of Michigan, kids aged 2-5 spend 32 hours per week in front of the television. In thousands of studies on kids and TV, researchers have consistently proven that the more time children spend watching TV, the more likely they will gain weight or become obese.

Do your kids a favor: cancel cable and stop watching TV. If you don’t want to cut it completely, at least set limits for the time children can spend in front of the television, playing video games, or using a computer.

4. Get Them Excited to Move

Get your children excited about exercise. The NFL created the non-profit Play 60 initiative to help parents and kids get at least 60 minutes of activity every day. The website has many ideas for fun exercises to do with your children, including backwards sprints, calf raises, and jump rope contests.

Kids who enjoy football can see many of their favorite sports heroes talking about the importance of exercise on the website. If your advice about exercise seems to fall on deaf ears, then maybe Drew Brees can get your kids excited about exercising.

The Play 60 initiative turns exercise into a fun contest. Instead of encouraging kids to run up and down the stairs, the site encourages them to time themselves, to see how much they can improve their speed. Instead of just swimming, they can try new activities, including underwater hand stands and jumping jacks off the diving board. These subtle changes can get your kids more interested in physical activity, especially if you hold endurance contests.

Exercise shouldn’t be boring. There are many creative, fun ways to get your kids moving:

  • Create a scavenger hunt.
  • Put up a basketball hoop in the driveway, and play ball with your kids.
  • Take them to the park to play.
  • Go fly a kite.
  • Play frisbee.
  • Take the dog for a walk.
  • Have a water balloon fight.
  • Go swimming.
  • Have a push-up contest.
  • Go bowling.
  • Have a jump rope contest.
  • Go hiking.
  • Go camping.
  • Have a dancing contest.
  • Sign up for a charity walk.
  • Play flashlight tag at night.
  • Buy toys like pogo sticks, hula hoops, and bikes.
  • Build an obstacle course in the backyard.
  • Take kids on a walk to find wood for a nighttime campfire.
  • Take your kids rock climbing or bouldering.
  • Build a fort.
  • Have a water gun battle in the neighborhood.
  • Go walking in the rain.

5. Assign Chores

Pushing a broom, washing windows, and cutting the grass may not sound like fun, but these activities count as exercise. Encourage children to participate in household chores to increase their levels of physical activity. You could even set up a weekly house cleaning schedule to set expectations. Then, thank your children with an allowance or commission, or a special treat. Kids are more likely to complete their chores when they receive rewards.

6. Sign Them Up

What do swim lessons, yoga, karate, dance class, and soccer have in common? These activities can help your kids become more active. If you can afford it, sign your kids up for an activity that includes a significant amount of physical exercise. Visit your local YMCA, sign them up for summer camp, or have kids join a local youth league.

If you can’t afford a formal class, have kids join the school sports team or an after-school club. There are many ways to save money on kids playing organized sports. Alternatively, look into free public library services and resources. The library has DVDs you can rent to teach your kids activities. You can learn the activity together, and have even more fun!

boy scale surprised

7. Go Slow

If your kids don’t exercise now, asking them to do an hour of physical activity each day will initially be met with resistance. Go slow, gradually limiting TV time, and increasing active time. Be encouraging; positive reinforcement can help to engage your children in daily exercise.

8. Take Them to Sporting Events

Taking your kids to a gym meet, a baseball game, a football game, or even a curling event might not seem like an inducement to exercise. However, these professional, organized events allow your kids to see professional athletes in action, which can, in turn, help your kids see the benefits of physical activity and get them excited to do more exercise at home. Watching a sport may also get their competitive spirits burning, making them want to play, instead of just watching!

Final Word

Excessive weight gain and obesity in children is a major problem, but your family can start to reverse these trends right now. Encourage your children to exercise and set a good example by exercising with them. Whenever possible, make exercise fun, by doing fun family activities that involve some sort of physical activity, like hiking, riding bikes, or swimming.

Instead of rewarding kids for good behavior and good grades with ice cream or a new DVD, take them rock climbing, or on a camping trip. Encouraging your kids to exercise helps ensure they live a happy, healthy life, and this may also inspire you to live a happy and healthy life, too.

What are some of the methods you use to get your kids to exercise more? Have you run into problems or resistance when you encouraged them to become more active?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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