Too many calories and too little activity. Those are the two main contributors to childhood obesity, according to the Mayo Clinic. So, if you want to help your child maintain a healthy weight, a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, poultry, and beans is a good start. But physical activity is just as important.
Children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day to maintain a healthy weight. The bulk of that should be aerobic – brisk walking, running, swimming, dancing. But activities to strengthen the heart, lungs, and muscles and improve bone strength are also important. Here are ten great ways to get your kids moving, while enjoying some quality time with them.
1. Check out Let’s Move!
Michelle Obama’s healthy eating and exercise initiative begins with simple goals. On the activity side: 60 minutes of physical activity a day, at least 5 days a week. How do you get to sixty? One recommendation is to keep a household log, with the goal of limiting screen time to less than two hours a day. If kids are going to be in front of the computer or TV for long stretches, encourage them to break up the time with exercise. That could be jumping jacks, dancing, or sit-ups during commercials. After dinner is particularly important. A regular walk, bike ride, or trip to the park is a great alternative to TV time. And, if you’re running a nearby errand, don’t hop in the car: Walk.
2. Join a walking club
Walking doesn’t have to be a solitary thing. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy School Program encourages kids to walk during recess, before and after school, and during activity breaks. In one model program, students in the Garden City School District in Kansas track their progress with Popsicle sticks and punch cards. Once they achieve specific mileage goals, they receive, tokens, t-shirts, footballs or basketballs, and other recognition and prizes. Physical activity becomes an inclusive, social experience.
3. Watch a fitness video series
A lot of fitness ideas for children presume good weather. But on rainy days or in winter, it is hard to play outside. The Fit for a Healthy Generation video collection, which includes a number of 3-5 minute videos created by fitness celebrities, can be a nice alternative. From fitness training with Bob Harper, a featured trainer on the Biggest Loser, to Fitness Party with Zumba, there is a lot here to ward off the indoor blues.
4. Sweat through a playground workout
Parents magazine has a nice article on how to turn a schoolyard playground into a full-body workout circuit. It walks you through hanging crunches on monkey bars, cross kicks on swings, park bench dips, and slide climbs. The Daily Mom blog offers a similar workout catered adults. Here you’ll find bench jumps, incline planks, dips, and perimeter lunges. Dial these in and you’ll have a workout for everyone.
5. Throw a dance party
Nothing is as sure to get my two-year-old moving as listening to bass-heavy dance tracks on Pandora. We’ll clear the furniture and toys, get out a marimba and egg shaker, and do our best Saturday Night Fever. Not only does dancing help children get exercise, it also helps with language development and coordination. Plus, it’s just fun to watch a spinning toddler try to imitate John Travolta.
6. Make a family fitness plan
Goals inspire action. Make a plan with your family. Decide whether you’ll log exercise minutes, rotate through a weekly list of activities, or use a pedometer to track steps. Keep in mind exercise doesn’t have to be lifting weights or doing wind sprints. Gardening, sweeping dust bunnies, or chasing a hula hoop are all great ways to get kids active. You can find a number of great ideas here in Parents, Skinny Ms., and Fit Family Together.
7. Enroll in a kids’ gym
Ten children’s fitness franchises recently made Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Topping the list are i9 Sports, Gymboree Play & Music, and The Little Gym. Many offer tumbling equipment and structured classes in music, dance, gymnastics and sports. The goal is not just for children to shed calories but also to foster their emotional and cognitive development.
8. Sign up for Lil’ Kickers
Similar to a kid’s gym, but more focused in its approach is Lil’ Kickers. With more than 100 locations in 28 states and 237,000 children enrolled, the growing indoor soccer program uses structured exercises and fun diversions to help kids learn how to play soccer, while encouraging youth development. After 45 minutes of Lil’ Kickers and beans, fruit, and rice, my son checks out for a 2:30 hour nap.
9. Take on a playground cluster
As the Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel writes, these fitness-oriented children’s playgrounds are “not your average swing-and-slide sets; they’re more like mini-military training grounds in crayon colors.” Varying in size, playground clusters often feature at least six components, including balance beams, parallel bars, sit-up benches, and chin-up bars. They’re designed to work all elements of fitness, from aerobic fitness to muscular strength and stamina.
10. Get locally active
An important study of more than 3,000 children living in southern California found that those who lived closer to parkland and recreational programs had much lower Body Mass Index (BMI) at 18 years of age than comparable children who lived further away. Some cities are aware of such studies and responding progressively. Miami Dade County developed an Open Space Master Plan that ensures that every resident is within a 5-minute walking or biking distance from a neighborhood park, recreation center, or civic space. If you recognize a need for more ways for kids (or adults) to get active in your community, be an agent for change.