Author: Alison Johnson
Most kids have plenty of time to exercise during the summer months. But when the school year rolls around, they may be sitting for the better part of an approximately 7-hour academic day, especially if they're in middle or high school and don't have recess or physical education.
Then when students do get home, they may face a mountain of homework or want to unwind with television, video games, computer time or a snack -- all of which means more sitting.
To keep kids who don't play an after-school sport active, parents might need to put in some effort too, fitness experts say.
"Be creative!" says Liza-Marie V. de la Cruz, lead exercise physiologist at the Riverside Wellness & Fitness Center in Newport News. "Kids and teenagers are more likely to participate in activities that they enjoy. Introduce different games such as Handball or Ultimate Frisbee. Go bike riding on a trail or in a park instead of a neighborhood. Encourage friends or siblings to participate. This may disguise physical activity as 'hanging out.'"
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids and teens get 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on all days of the week, but any amount helps. Exercise is an important way to prevent weight problems, which affect more than 23 million young Americans ages 2 to 19 and can contribute to everything from heart and joint damage to sleep disorders to depression.
Here are some ideas that might work on busy school days:
Build 30 minutes to an hour of "outside time" into a child's schedule after school. Keep your yard stocked with plenty of balls and frisbees. If it's raining, put on dance music inside or at least play an active video game. If kids aren't not good about staying outside, take them to a playground or park for that time.
Invite an active friend over. You can trade short, one or two hour playdates with other sets of parents. You also can encourage your child to ask neighborhood kids to play a sport or a game of tag.
Set a goal. Get involved in a race for a cause, which you can train for with your child. There are many fall walks and races; go to www.runningintheusa.com for options.
Assign active chores. Put your child in charge of walking the family dog, for example, or do some yardwork or cleaning.
Plan ahead for the weekend. Brainstorm something active for the family to do together. Ask your kids for input on possible activities. If you have teenagers, give them advance notice of outings and try to plan them around times that you know they have something going on with their friends.
Look for an after-school activity that gets kids moving. It doesn't have to be a team sport. There are great individual athletic options, or kids can start a leaf-raking business or help clean up trash in a neighborhood or park. Or take a family walk after dinner each night.
Organize fun family challenges. Record how many steps kids take wearing a pedometer, perhaps with a small (non-junk-food) reward once they log a certain number of miles. You can do the same with sit-ups and push-ups. However, it's not a good idea to bribe kids to exercise.
Don't link exercise with weight loss. You don't want it to take on a negative connotation; you want it to be enjoyable and stress-free. Make it about strength, energy and lifelong fitness.
Set a good example. Kids who see their parents exercising -- and having fun as they do -- are more likely to be physically active as well.
Finally, talk about why fitness is important in kid-friendly terms, de la Cruz recommends. "You can explain to them that exercise is important in the growing process," she says. "Exercise improves strength, self-confidence and even grades."
So get moving!