Do you think that physical activity is only for adults? Or that weight maintenance is something that you don’t have to be concerned about for children? If you answered yes, you are not alone. The number of times that I hear parents say ‘He’s just a big kid,’ ‘She’ll grow out of being overweight,’ or ‘She can eat what she wants – she’s skinny’ is disappointing. Maybe years ago when technology was not so prevalent in homes, and fast food was not so readily available, those statements may have held a little more truth. But today we have to be conscious of creating a healthy and active lifestyle for children from a very young age.
Creating healthy lifestyle habits when children are young may help them maintain their health as adults.
Your child’s external appearance may not always be a true indication of what is happening on the inside of their body. You can be skinny on the outside with a high internal body fat percentage; so don’t use external appearance as a gauge. Even if weight issues are not a problem for your child, you should still not let them consume a ton of junk food and sit around all day. It’s important to understand that we all need regular physical activity in our life no matter what our body type or age.
I want to talk about making physical activity part of a daily routine, not because of the external physical benefits that we tend to associate exercise with such as muscle definition and a smaller waistline, but for something much more important, your heart.
The American Heart Association states that an increased level of physical activity for children can lead to a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. I think this reason alone should be enough to inspire the entire family to get up off the couch and start moving. But if you need a little extra convincing, here are six other reasons why physical activity is good for you and the children in your life.
The wonderful health benefits associated with regular physical activity may be just the thing to motivate an adult to get moving. Trust me, as a mom to four young kids, I understand that your determined young child or grumpy teenager may care less about their long-term health and would much rather eat chips and play video games, so here is a list of five ways that you can try to motivate an inactive child to get moving.
Trial and error of trying out activities until something sticks is a great approach to creating life long habits. Don’t make a big deal out of the experience just simply say “I thought we could all go and try X today for fun.” Make sure it is an activity that has you all moving and see if they ask to go back.
A simple pedometer can create a family challenge that not only burns calories, but creates many fun conversations and interactions. This is perfect for pre-teens (my kids love to compete to see who gets the highest number) but I have also seen this simple method of recording daily movement be effective with teenagers and adults.
Get creative with a rewards system that recognizes making healthy choices daily. Pick a gift or family outing that you know will truly motivate your child to keep up with their activities long term.
Be a good example and get active with your family. Children love to emulate their parents so set a good example by making your own health a priority.
Make exercise and activity a positive experience for everyone involved. Using it as a form of punishment or kicking your kids outside when it’s cold to “get active” may create a negative association with exercise that will last into adulthood.
Kids go through many growth spurts especially as they approach their teenage years. I have witnessed my own children going through phases of being overly hungry and eating me out of a week’s worth of groceries in a matter of days. Only to notice a few weeks later that I have to buy them all new clothes because they have grown a few inches taller. It is for this reason that we have to be conscious of a child’s ever-changing needs on a regular basis and continually find ways to motivate and inspire them to be healthy and active.
Building confidence and body awareness can take time, practice and patience, so be encouraging but don’t make too many changes at once. A diet and lifestyle overhaul for an adult can be challenging and for children it can be extremely distressing. Making small and simple changes over a prolonged period of time is the best way to inspire permanent change.
Show your love for your family by taking care of their heart with a healthy active lifestyle.
Written by Samantha Clayton, AFAA, ISSA. Samantha is Director of Fitness Education at Herbalife.