Your kids don’t need full gym memberships to be active and healthy. When your health care provider asks you if your children exercise, it’s not about whether they run two miles a day, get on a treadmill or lift weights. It’s about whether your kids go outside and play for an hour a day. Many of my patients say they can’t go outside because it isn’t safe or it’s too cold or too hot or there is no one else with whom they can play. So I tell them to go play games with their siblings or ask their mother to take them to the park. Kids don’t need full gym memberships to be active and healthy. An hour of activity daily has been proven to reduce obesity in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). You can help your child become active and healthier while keeping it fun. You may just find that you’re becoming healthier, too.
There are many ways to have a good time exercising, and playing games is among the best. To begin, try having your kids go outside and kick the soccer ball around to one another, to you or against a wall. This alone counts as exercise. But having them work on keeping the ball between them and the other person or the wall will mean they have to run a lot and exert themselves more. Go out and shoot hoops with your children, or go to the park and play on the jungle gym. Both are good exercises and easy to do without a lot of prep work. Showing your kids that you are going to exercise, too, will be enough to get them moving.
If you have neighbors with kids, get a game of soccer, basketball, football or baseball together, create teams and see who wins. If you don’t have all the equipment needed, try kickball. All you need is a ball and something to use as a base (those bottles of water that everyone should be drinking would work well). You always need to ensure safety, so talk to your kids about safe play — such as not sliding into each other, wearing the appropriate shoes, etc.
If you remember jumping rope in school as part of your physical education class or jumping rope for a heart fundraiser, pull out those skills and teach your kids a thing or two about jumping rope. Jumping rope is one of the best cardiovascular (good for your heart) activities you can do, and it’s fun. Teach kids to jump on one foot and then the other, start a competition to see who can jump the most times without stopping and teach them to do double jumps.
Bike riding can be a hard activity for kids to learn, but once they know how to do it, they will be so proud of themselves they won’t want to stop. You, too, can benefit from the exercise of teaching bike riding to your child. Talk to your child about safety and wearing a helmet. After dinner, take bike rides through the park or around the neighborhood to help get your children moving and wear them out for a good night’s sleep.
Your kids can help with the yard work, which will get them to exercise and benefit you in the long run. Teach them how to garden, till the soil and help plant the seeds. Show them how to pull weeds and then have a contest to see who can pull fastest, which will get your heart and theirs pumping quickly. If they are old enough, get them to help mow the lawn and trim the bushes. These family activities count as exercise, but they are also helping to care for your home.
Go outside and play soccer as a family, teach your kids to play basketball or tennis, or just go for a walk. Getting the whole family involved is a great way to get healthy, act as a role model for exercise and keep your kids safe. Walking around your neighborhood for 15 to 20 minutes each evening before or after dinner is a good way to get started. Slowly work the time up to one hour, and you will be following the AAP exercise recommendation for kids.
Physical activity is important for helping your children start a lifelong healthy habit. Cold weather shouldn’t stop them from playing outside. And, if you’re concerned about safety, get out and exercise with them. Teach your kids fun classic games from your childhood such as hide-and-seek; capture the flag; foursquare; hopscotch; red light/green light; Mother, may I; Simon says; freeze tag and duck, duck, goose. Just playing games gets everyone motivated and moving!
Christie Ramirez, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC, is a PNP working in primary care for a school-based clinic in Texas.