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Are you tired of the tug ‘o war with your kids about their screen use? “Why don’t you switch off that computer/I-pod/mobile phone, and go outside?” has become a daily mantra in most modern families. Though screens may help us stay entertained, connected and well informed, they are robbing our children of time that was once spent being more active.
Cut to the present and kids are far less likely to walk to the local creek to catch tadpoles. Or kick around a soccer ball at the park with a friend. Or play elastics, skipping rope, 'chasy' or stuck in the mud in the backyard.
In countries like Australia, research by Active Healthy Kids shows that one generation ago, 40% more children cycled or walked to school. Now they’re more likely to catch a bus or get a lift.
As technology leads our kids to stay indoors and sit more than they stand or run, it could be putting them in the frontline for weight gain and related conditions like heart disease and diabetes Type 2. In many countries, up to 80% of children aged five to 17, are not getting enough exercise. Don’t be fooled into thinking that weekend sport is enough. It doesn’t guarantee that your kids will exercise more on non-training days.
Children aged five to 18 need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day to boost health and help maintain a healthy weight. It’s a win-win for their mind and body. Studies show that active kids have healthier hearts, more stable blood glucose levels, less body fat and better immunity. They are also happier, less anxious and enjoy a better quality of sleep.
Children who exercise regularly also improve their maths ability and decision-making skills shown by research from the Medical College of Georgia in the US. At the Salk Institute in the US, research has shown that exercise appears to boost brain development and learning too.
Just as you can fill a fruit bowl or grow vegetables to help your kids choose healthier food, you can take these steps to ensure exercise is encouraged and valued:
Walking is free, can be done anywhere at any time and you can include challenges like stairs and hills. So invest in pedometers and where possible, walk with your kids to the shops, a neighbour’s house and school. Go on longer walks with them to scenic locations nearby such as the beach, a pretty park or lake. And encourage your kids to keep a log of how much they walk every day. Hopefully, they will become inspired to reach the recommended 10,000 steps (and you will be too!)
This should include smaller items like skipping ropes and balance boards, kept in easily accessible places. Outside, install a trampoline (with a safety net), a basketball hoop or soccer goalposts on the lawn. Inside, set up some gym-style equipment like a stationary bike or rowing machine and encourage your kids to take turns using it if watching TV. When choosing a bike for your child, think about how it looks as well as how it functions. They are more likely to want to take if for a spin if you add on a pretty basket and tassels or stickers of an action hero.
Sign up for the local aquatic centre, tennis club, or climbing centre. For older kids, get a gym membership.
These may include a Saturday morning bush walk, Sunday afternoon bike ride or game of cricket or football with friends on Friday afternoons every week.
Fill it with items like sticky bats and balls, cricket gear and different kinds of balls and an easily dismantled swing tennis set. Throw it in the car when you go on a picnic or BBQ.
If you’re the ultimate couch potato or spend most of your time glued to a screen, your child is more likely to do the same. So move it!
Just as it’s boring to eat the same kinds of meals day after day, exercise blahs set in if movement opportunities become too routine. To help your children want to exercise, give some of these activities a go:
- Head to the pool and, play tag or use water toys like diving sticks or rings to make water play focused and fun.
- On rainy days, push back furniture, place mattresses or exercise mats on the floor and engage in lounge room gymnastics – rolling, doing handstands and stretches.
- Play balloon soccer - your child uses only head, knees or feet to keep a balloon in the air.
- Enjoy some party games, such as: Crab walking relay races, Chain tag, ‘Freeze’ or ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf?’
- Ask your kids to wash the car – an activity that will take hours (and prompt a giggle-fest too)!
- Head to a water fun park to enjoy the slides and other water activities.
-Offer pocket money for chores: Get your teen to wash the car, dust and vacuum, mow the lawn or sweep the veranda and paths.
- Drop them to an indoor pool, ice-skating rink or rock-climbing centre with a few friends.
- Head for the park to play a game of family cricket, soccer, Frisbee or British Bulldog.
- Rug up in winter and walk on the beach without the usual crowds.
- Invest in a portable table tennis set and challenge your teen to games on your dining room table.
- Enjoy a family bike ride and picnic lunch or a hike to a scenic lookout. Challenge them to out-walk or out-pedal you on the way.
- Make your child your personal coach and get them to walk/jog or go to the gym with you to keep you motivated! (Set some ground rules – you won’t make lame parent jokes if they don’t sledge you about being out of breath or running out of steam)!
Four out of Five children don't get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day according to the government website: Health Direct.
But the data is clear, if you get 60 minutes a day you reap this range of health benefits:
The data is in, there's plenty of ways to get our kids active, and the health benefits stack up. At Wellbeing Island we have our wide range of all products to help improve your child's health. Check our site to find out more.
Time to get outside with the kids and get that heart rate up, you might just find you enjoy it.