Everyone benefits from being physically active and making healthy choices. Helping your kids establish consistent healthy habits now is especially important to help them grow into healthy adults.
Like a house built on a solid foundation, laying the foundation for a healthy lifestyle for children requires solid building blocks that include healthy eating and movement every single day.
According to the Health and Human Services President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, only one in three children are physically active every day. In addition, only six states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Vermont) require physical education and exercise in every grade, K-12.
Staggeringly, overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults – and there are major mental health impacts with childhood obesity as well. Doctor’s say that sedentary behavior can also lead to lack of focus in school, delayed motor skills, decreased academic achievement, depressive symptoms, and increased anxiety.
While sobering, with regular physical activity these effects, are reversible! Parents, families, and caregivers can provide structured physical activity and support in kid’s day-to-day lives to provide plenty of opportunities for movement throughout the day!
How much movement?
Experts suggest that preschoolers ages 3-5 should be getting regular physical activity – staying active about three hours per day. Don’t panic though; this does not mean three hours straight.
Preschoolers are naturally active, so providing them with light, moderate, and vigorous-intensity opportunities to play throughout the day will give them the movement they need to stay healthy. As parents and caregivers, you can play an active role in encouraging the kids in your care to get up and move.
Don’t stress over making your toddler run sprints – movement for preschoolers could be a walk around the block, playing trucks on the ground, or a game of duck duck goose at preschool.
Keeping activities fun and varied with adult participation is key.
Kids ages 6-17 need to get one hour of daily physical activity, and experts recommend moderate to vigorous physical activity. Moderate to vigorous movement can include jump rope, basketball, or biking. Making movement fun for this age group is the best way to incorporate regular aerobic exercise.
If you are just starting to lay out your healthy habits program for your family, set smaller, more achievable goals around movement and physical exercise. Then, build your way up.
Many kids are not into competitive sports or may not live in areas where they can ride a bike so take advantage of everyday opportunities for movement like walking the dog, doing chores, or having a family dance party!
If your young child has accommodations that need to be taken into consideration, adjust the movement to meet the needs of your child and consult your child’s doctor if necessary.
That way, they will have the most fun, setting them up for success so that they want to do that activity again. Get creative; there is no wrong way to inspire your kid to move.
The positives of daily movement
Kids benefit from consistent, daily movement, even light physical activity, just like adults do. The upstream benefits include muscle strength, good bone density, and decreased chance of getting type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
The positives of daily movement don’t stop there! Kids that have regular physical activity in their day sleep better and are more rested. Better rest means that active kids are more likely to be at school on time and have regular attendance and a higher ability to focus in class.
Movement and active play aren’t meant to be limited to the weekends or after-school sports.
Studies show that exercise breaks throughout the day at school help to improve brain development as well as physical fitness. Regular exercise increases the flow of oxygen to the brain and helps with cognitive development, mood, memory, and the ability to cope with stress and anxiety.
Aerobic fitness and an active lifestyle have tremendous health benefits against long-term chronic disease and managing a healthy weight. Physical activity also encourages social skills, improves self esteem, and boosts academic performance.
Combined with healthy food choices and hydration, exercise and movement throughout the day help children to improve whole body health.
How can I help my child be more active?
Modeling healthy habits is very important when encouraging children to move daily. Parents, caregivers, and teachers can help set realistic goals for children regarding movement.
Making movement a family activity and setting a regular routine helps engrain physical activity into the fabric of your everyday life. Talking about healthy choices with your child goes hand in hand with being a positive role model.
Tell your child why you take the stairs rather than the elevator so that they understand the rationale behind the choices we all make. Educating your child on the “why” of regular movement, as well as making movement fun, will go a long way to set your child up for a lifetime of healthy outcomes.
Kids also need to be guided on what other healthy habits look like – including a constant favorite of young kids these days, screen time.
Computers and screens have become part of our daily lives. Toddlers know how to work iPads and phones, and kids are more sedentary than ever. With more parents working from home and kids in virtual school, screens are more prevalent in our lives than ever before.
How can you provide balance in your kid’s lives and create more opportunities for physical activity? Be choosey and put smart limits on screen time for your children and yourself when you can.
Delineate active vs. passive screen time – so you can give your kids more time that helps get their body or mind moving – or builds social connection – and less completely passive screen time.
If you have designated a certain time to be screen free, find active alternatives for your family to do together and put them on everyone’s calendar! Playing Twister, jumping rope, or walking like an animal are just a few of the fun things you can do with your little ones to promote aerobic activity.
Focusing on doing active things together is a whole lot more fun and being realistic and putting it on the calendar makes it a whole lot more likely to happen!
When you think about exercising, does it fill you with dread? Do you only equate exercise with losing weight?
It’s easy to get caught up in the “no pain no gain” rhetoric as an adult, but ideally, we can help our kids avoid thinking that way. As caregivers and parents, we can help our kids (and ourselves) find joy in movement and self confidence in being active!
By being experimental and encouraging your little ones to try new activities like hoola hooping, roller skating, or an online yoga class, you might just find something you all love and create a new family habit that will create a lifetime of memories.
Also, exploring different opportunities for movement helps everyone find activities that will bring them true joy and reminds us all that trying new things can be fun!
With you by their side, modeling healthy eating habits, staying hydrated, and finding your own joy in moving every day, your child will have a healthy foundation on which to build as they grow!
We can all use more joy and movement these days, don’t you think?