Families everywhere are excited to shake off their winter blues and welcome spring blooms and sunshine. As the weather warms, consider creative ways to encourage physical activity with your family.
Although we know that physical activity is important, many families are surprised to learn that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children and adolescents and 30 minutes of daily physical activity for adults.
How can you meet this challenge? Schedule physical activity for your family every day. Although 60 minutes may sound like a lot of time, consider the many hours kids spend on sedentary activities such as watching television, playing video games and sitting with computers and smartphones.
You can get creative with your physical activity schedule by breaking up the 60-minute recommendation into one 60-minute workout or into workouts that are completed in 15- to 20-minute increments. When planning a physical activity routine, consider incorporating a variety of exercises including aerobic activity, muscle and bone strengthening.
Beautiful weather forecast? Start your day by encouraging physical activity as a family. Activities may include:
* Walking, running or simply playing a game outside. Remember, these activities don’t require sophisticated skills or equipment, and they’re free. Suggest visits to local playgrounds, parks or community sports complexes.
* Complete your yard work and gardening as a family. Enjoy the fruits of your labor with fresh fruits and veggies at dinner.
* After dinner, turn off your favorite television show and head outside to chase fireflies, play games or just take a family walk.
Stuck inside on a rainy day? Consider putting limits on screen time and encourage active time instead. When your child is watching television, organize television breaks that encourage stretching, jumping jacks, running in place or jumping up and down. Great news for parents seeking chores for their kids: Vacuuming and cleaning get hearts pumping as well!
In addition to being physically active as a family, there are many wonderful options for children of all ages that encourage aerobic activity. No matter what your kids choose to do to stay physically active, remember to provide positive feedback when they participate in sports and always encourage their interest in new physical activities.
Here are examples of good aerobic exercises that don’t feel like exercise.
Baseball: Get that bat and ball and head to the field for a great sport that encourages running, fosters hand-eye coordination and teaches teamwork. Many neighborhoods and churches have summer baseball leagues that are open to a variety of ages and talent stages. Join a league, start your own league or simply encourage your kids to pick up a bat and play.
Soccer: Whether you’re kicking a ball for the winning goal or bouncing the ball on your head or knee to block a winning shot, soccer is a great way to get aerobic exercise, build muscles and encourage kids to work together.
Dance: Dance lessons are a wonderful opportunity for children to participate in an organized physical activity. Many kids enjoy twirling in tutus, ballet costumes and ballet shoes, waving “jazz hands” or simply tapping their feet to the music. If organized dance lessons are not available in your area, remember that nothing beats a good informal dance party! Throw on some tunes and dance the day away. In addition to dance being a great form of aerobic exercise, it offers your child an opportunity for free expression. Hop up and down, dance like your favorite zoo animals, teach your child the electric slide and let her teach you the Nae Nae.
Lacrosse: Gather a few friends and lacrosse sticks and head to the field for this exciting — and often competitive — game. Kids will get a great cardio workout, as well as strengthen muscles, when running and propelling balls down the field.
Swimming: Swimming and water sports are always a favorite summer activity for children and adults alike. Swimming works several muscle groups and offers endless possibilities for water games and activities. Dive for pennies at the bottom of a pool, play a quick game of sharks and minnows or just simply swim laps. Consider the importance of swimming lessons for kids who can’t swim or need a refresher on their swimming skills. Remember the importance of safety rules. Never leave a child unattended around any form of water, and apply sunscreen frequently.
Biking and skateboarding: Both activities are great warm-weather options to get your child’s heart pumping.
Hoverboards: Arguably one of the hottest toys on the market, hoverboards encourage balance and core strength but should be used with extreme caution. Injuries and fires have been reported throughout the U.S., and airports and many cities have banned the use of hoverboards. If your child is interested, look for models that have been certified by national testing labs.
Before your kids hit the pavement for any of the above sports, remember these safety rules:
* Wear a helmet and protective pads.
* Ride on smooth surfaces in well-lit areas.
* Wear reflective apparel if riding at night.
* While you’re walking, remember to teach kids to look left, right and left before crossing the street.
* Continue to monitor for oncoming cars while crossing the street.
* Put away phones and headphones so that you can give your undivided attention to your surroundings — and most importantly — to your child.
* Does playing an organized sport above sound like a great idea? Make sure your child has a sports participation physical exam prior to the first practice.
* Summer brings sweltering heat to many parts of the U.S. Ensure your child stays hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
* Gentle stretching before and after practice helps reduce the risk of muscle strains and sprains.
* Always remember protective equipment, including helmets, wrist pads and kneepads, when appropriate.
From baseball to soccer to dancing in the backyard, enjoy exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise at all. An added perk is that there are many benefits to physical activity. The CDC states that physical activity can improve overall health by decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression and some cancers. Physical activity helps with weight management and decreases the risk of childhood obesity. Additionally, it encourages the development of lean muscles and strong bones and often results in better sleep patterns. The cherry on top: Physical activity may help improve academic achievement in students. Starting a good physical activity routine over the summer sets the ground work for a successful academic year.
Start your family’s summer off right, and while doing all that exercise, consider joining the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) challenge. This challenge rewards kids and adults who commit to regular physical activity. Sign up your child at www.presidentschallenge.org. Since the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award can be given to children and adults, consider setting up a family challenge to see who achieves the award first by being physically active, five days a week, for six weeks. Most importantly, enjoy your family, mix it up and have fun!
Audra Rankin, DNP, APRN, CPNP, is an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Nursing and a PNP at the University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics in Louisville, KY.