Increase Your Family's Physical Fitness
Healthy kids have the best chance to become healthy adults. Risk factors for chronic illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis can have their roots in childhood.
Keeping your child physically active helps promote long-term health. Kids who get regular physical activity have better cardiovascular fitness, stronger bones and muscles, lower body fat and perhaps even fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Kids between the ages of 4 and 6 can benefit from unstructured play and exploration under your watchful eye. Good activities for healthy kids in this age include running, playing catch or swimming. Unstructured play outdoors or a walk through the neighborhood park are great ways to introduce younger children and toddlers to an active lifestyle.
Through age 9, children will start to acquire skills in certain sports or activities. Organized sports can be introduced, but they should focus on fun rather than winning.
Throughout the junior high years, kids will fine-tune their skills and may want to become active in competitive sports. Weight training under supervision can sometimes be started at this age.
The frequency, intensity, length and mix of activities are important. Also, look for activities that help build healthy bones. These are the weight-bearing exercises like running and jumping. The greatest gains in bone mass happen just before and during puberty. Most of a person's peak bone mass is reached by the end of the teen years.
Be a role model
Parents are the best role models. By leading an active life, you inspire your children to do the same. Praise, rewards and encouragement will help kids stay active.
- Encourage your kids to enjoy activities with the family or on their own. Suggest:
- Playing chase
- Make time for activity:
- Try to find at least three 30-minute slots for physical activity each week
- Pick two of those slots as family activity times
- Put a two-hour limit on the time your kids spend:
- Watching TV
- Playing video games
- Using the computer
- Infants and toddlers under 2 years old should not watch TV at all
- Create opportunities for your kids to be active with other kids.
- This can help them build friendships that include active play or sports
- Informal play promotes aerobic fitness, creativity and muscle and bone strength
- Introduce your kids to a variety of activities.
- Find recreational, team and individual sports they like
- Help them try things that don't require fine athletic skills. Look for activities they can enjoy for life, such as jogging, bicycling, hiking, or swimming
- Keep a family activity log on the refrigerator. This can encourage everyone to take part and keep up the good work.
Come up with family activities that can be done no matter what the weather. These may include:
- Indoor facilities for:
- Stationary cycling
- Ice or roller skating
- Rock climbing
- Aerobic dance
- Movements to stretch and strengthen
- Stair climbing
- Rope skipping
- Mall walking
Tell your friends and family about your interest in physical activity. Ask them to support your efforts, and consider inviting them to exercise with your family.
Include activity in your family's social calendar. Celebrate birthdays, holidays or family gatherings with physical activities, such as hiking, volleyball, bicycling, skiing, or swimming.
Other ways to help increase family fitness levels include:
- Taking family walks
- Finding easy, low-cost recreation programs and sports leagues
- Choosing fitness gifts like a jump rope, mini-trampoline, tennis racket, baseball bat or gym membership
- Assigning chores that require physical effort
- Biking, rather than driving, to libraries and stores
- Supporting physical education and recess at school
Before starting regular physical activity, talk with your doctor about the right levels for your family, especially if you have a child with medical problems.
- By Howard Seidman, Contributing Writer, myOptumHealth
- University of Minnesota Extension. What are some ways my family can be more physically active? Accessed: 12/08/2008
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Accessed: 09/14/2011
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Make family time active time. Accessed: 12/08/2008
- Active healthy living: prevention of childhood obesity through increased physical activity. Pediatrics. 2006;117:1834-1842. Accessed: 12/08/2008