Exercise is important. We all know that. But as kids get older and the lure of the playground fades, so, too, can their physical activity. This is especially true for non-athletes not interested in team sports.
Yet, physical activity is key for a variety of reasons. Exercise builds stronger bones, helps manage stress, controls weight, improves muscle strength and has been shown to positively affect social skills and interaction. At the same time, it reduces the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease later in life. At least 60 minutes of activity a day is recommended.
So, how do you get your children up and moving if they are not inclined to do so on their own?
Find age-appropriate activities they love. It can be anything from dancing to cycling, yoga to soccer. Let your child be part of the decision-making as you introduce them to ice skating, baseball, tennis, swimming, running, martial arts, rock climbing, skateboarding or something else. It may take a while to find the right activity (or two), but eventually something will click.
Be patient. Your child’s interests may wax and wane as they age. Allow them to experiment with team and individual sports and activities and remember that each child is different. What may work for your oldest may not work for your youngest, so let kids excel at and enjoy different types of activities with no pressure.
Keep it fun. Don’t make exercise a punishment. Forcing a sport on your child can lead to resentment and resistance. Instead, think about creative ways to encourage physical activity such as allowing them to ride a bike for 30 minutes after school but before homework or skating (skateboarding or rollerblading) for a half hour before coming inside for a bath.
Plan ahead. Make sure your child has a convenient time and place to exercise and that they’re not overscheduled (and overwhelmed!) with other activities. Also important: Having the right clothing and accessories to ensure they’re comfortable.
Encourage practicing. Practice helps build kids’ confidence and makes them more excited about what they’re doing. This also means playing with your child, throwing balls, running or hiking and teaching them something new.
Praise and reward. Inspire your kids by letting them know how proud you are of their efforts. Make a point to support them and cheer on their efforts.
Be a fitness role model. Kids who see you going to the gym, running in a race or hopping on a bike will want to do the same. Remember, you are your child’s best teacher, but telling them something is less impactful than showing them how it’s done.
Make fitness a family activity. Do things together (walking and biking are easy ones) or take them to your gym if you belong to one. Show them what you do and, if your gym allows, sign them up for age-appropriate activities. Even if you are not a member of a private gym, you can take advantage of Fitness Zones at county parks throughout Miami-Dade. And you shouldn’t ignore the beach, coastlines and even public pools – this is South Florida, after all. Think kayaking, paddle boarding, beach volleyball, and, well, swimming as a family.
Enlist them for chores. Chores such as pulling weeds, sweeping the walk or taking out the trash are great ways to get kids moving. Make it fun by putting on music and moving to the beat.
Limit screen time. Turn off the TV, limit computer use and use that time instead for more physical activities. Too cold or rainy outside? Make screen time more engaging through interactive videos that encourage movement such as bowling, baseball or dance videos. Or, turn your kids’ tech fascination into a physical benefit by investing in pedometer gadgets to keep track of their steps or sign them up to take part in the Peloton class craze, where they can stream instructor-led exercise activities.
Don’t overdo it. Learn when to stop to avoid meltdowns or frustration. Remember, the goal is to get your kids to enjoy exercising and develop lifelong healthy habits. They don’t have to be the next superstar athlete.
Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S. in guidance and counseling, oversees parenting programs across the county. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.