Physical activity is good for children's bodies. It promotes growth and development and should be encouraged throughout the day for younger children (ages 3 to 5). At least 60 minutes of activity a day helps older children and adolescents grow strong bones and muscles, build endurance and maintain a healthy weight. There's mounting evidence that moderate to vigorous physical activity also helps boost children's critical thinking skills, grade point averages and standardized test scores.
Plan time in your schedule for your children to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, which can accumulate with shorter chunks throughout the day. Remember to praise, reward and encourage your kids' physical activity.
For healthy lifestyles, children need both free play and specific instruction on physical skills. An easy way for kids to meet this goal is by participating in physical education as part of the school day, when kids are in school. During times when children are at home because school is out or cancelled, block off a certain time everyday for your kids to engage in physical activity, similar to what would be done in school. The best physical education is age appropriate and fun.
Adults or kids can organize active play. There are active indoor games such as Simon Says, and dozens of games to play outside — hopscotch, jump rope, dodge ball, Frisbee golf, badminton and volleyball. Depending on the season, plan trips to a local bowling alley, swimming pool or skating rink when those options are available.
Make Fitness Part of Your Child's Day
When school is in session, if your children can walk or bike to and from school, they will get many of the physical and mental benefits of being active, while you save on trips to the gas station. When school is not in session, walk or bike with your kids when you can and organize family walking or bicycling trips around the block.
Make Screen Time an Active Time
When going to play outside isn’t an option, your children can play interactive video games that require physical activity such as tennis, bowling or baseball. You also can use dance videos and active video games for some physically-active television time.
Get Help With Household Chores
Encourage your children to participate in active outdoor chores such as raking leaves, pulling weeds, watering plants, sweeping the walks or cleaning the garage. Make the chores feel fun with upbeat music and be sure to join in to get them done as a family.
Be an Active Role Model
Present physical activity as an important time to take care of your body and health, rather than a chore. Find activities you enjoy and be active for at least 30 minutes five days a week. When your children see that you are enjoying time being active, they will be more likely to model your behavior.
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, is a Chicago-based author and owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC, which provides nutrition programs for athletes.
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