Many families are breathing a sigh of relief around now — with the last day of school heralding the beginning of summer vacation. Will your kids and teens spend plenty of time outdoors, running around and playing? Or will they be camped out in front of the TV or laptop, their eyes glued to the screen?
My young teen and pre-teen are pretty active. But at times, my son would rather sit and watch Gilligan’s Island reruns— and my daughter would prefer to hole up in her bedroom and read all day. Like many parents, my husband and I sometimes need to nudge our kids to get moving.
The truth is that a sedentary lifestyle puts children at risk. Prolonged TV viewing is associated with increased risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or other serious health problems. As parents, we have the power — and the responsibility — to lovingly steer our youngsters in the right direction, teaching them lifelong skills for staying active in all kinds of ways that are healthy and fun.
If your kids could stand to be more active, summer is a great time to adopt a new family habit. Try these ideas — or call a family meeting to come up with some of your own:
- Walk the talk. Whether or not they’ll admit it, kids want to be just like Mom or Dad. When they see you enjoying a morning walk, playing tennis, or swimming, they’ll want to try it, too — especially if you look like you’re having fun.
- All together now. Sign up and train for a fitness event together. It could be a 5K walk or run, a mini-triathlon, or a group bicycle ride. Enjoying exercise as a family is a great way to strengthen bonds and build great memories.
- Go for a hike. Green exercise, or exercise in a natural environment, has been shown to boost both mood and self-esteem — and the effect is even greater when exercising near a body of water. My family loves to hike — for us, there’s something transformative and soul-nourishing about getting into the woods, breathing pine-scented air, and enjoying panoramic views, waterfalls, and wildlife. If you have reluctant hikers, encourage them to invite their friends to come along on your next trek.
- Batter up. Help your children discover sports and other activities they enjoy — even if they’re not school athletes. Plug them in to recreational leagues or lessons — or organize informal neighborhood baseball games or pickleball matches.
- Daytime deal. If both parents work outside the home, let your childcare provider know that you want your kids to be as active as possible during the day. They could plant and tend a garden, enjoy free play time outdoors or indoors, run short races, jump rope, or learn to line dance. A trip to the park, the zoo, a local farm, or science center also helps keep little ones on the move.
Physically active kids are happier and healthier. Keep your kids in motion this summer — and watch them thrive.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.
Anders Grøntved, MPH, MSc; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, Television Viewing and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and All-Cause Mortality A Meta-analysis, Anders JAMA. 2011;305(23):2448-2455. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.812
Barton J, Pretty J, What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis, Environmental Science & Technology 2010;44(10):3947-3955
Milnes S, Outdoor Play, Penn State Better Kid Care Program, http://betterkidcare.psu.edu/AngelUnits/OneHour/OutdoorPlay/OutdoorPlayLessonA.html