For busy parents, it’s often hard to find the time to encourage your children to be active. We presume they get some kind of exercise at school, but this might not be the case. Mum of 2, Jill has some advice on how to get your kids moving with her top tips for fit kids.
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Lack of municipal playground space, and even insurance concerns, may curtail opportunities for exercise in the local community, while many modern estate houses tend to have quite small gardens, which limits activities such as cycling or running.
Another factor in our children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle is that we tend not to walk them to school. Often, both parents work away from the home, so the commute to work is combined with the school drop-off.
Or perhaps we have become a bit “soft” these days? When we were kids, we’d have thought nothing of walking half a mile in a bit of rain over a muddy field. Now we seem to jump in the car at the drop of a raindrop.
But probably the biggest obstacle to children being active is our multi-media lifestyles. Television, games consoles, computers all contribute towards this. My job involves sitting in front of a computer, so I have become increasingly aware of this and make a concerted effort each day to keep myself and my children active.
So what can I do?
Start with two fundamental steps towards encouraging your children into a healthier, more active lifestyle.
#1. First, examine your own mindset about exercise
Setting an example is critical. Do your children see that you exercise regularly? Do you play outside with them yourself? Can you remember the last time you sat on a bicycle? If your answers are no, no, no, then consider making small changes for yourself that will also benefit your children.
#2. Start including activity and exercise within your family time
Start adding some activity and exercise after work and school and at weekends (but start gently). It takes around 21 days for a healthy lifestyle habit to form, so give your family a month to adjust, particularly if the change is dramatic.
Simple, fun things to try
There are plenty of things to try if you want to help your family move gradually to a more active lifestyle.
- Think back to the kinds of things you used to enjoy as a child: pretending to be aeroplanes running down a grassy slope; running after a kite to get it flying in the air; cycling everywhere; running and clambering along the beach, in the woods, at the park. Can you add any of these to your current lifestyle? For example, while you might not want your kids to roam unmonitored, why not go cycling together once a week at the park?
- Ask your children for ideas on what you can do each week together that involves being active, and ask each person to choose a new activity they want to have a go at. Ask your kids to make up a schedule for the next three months, so that once a week there will be something new or fun to try (getting them involved in choosing gets them enthused and excited). Remember, you don’t have to buy expensive equipment to try new things – rent tennis rackets and balls from the nearest tennis club, make a kite to fly at the beach, or hire bikes for a day if you don’t have them.
- If you own a dog, instead of Mum or Dad taking it for its daily walks, make it a family affair and walk a loop near home. On the walk, try games and activities to overcome inertia. A regular games in our family is “Guess Who” (we each think of someone famous and answer yes or no to “Guess Who” questions). Games like these can help pass the time and make the moans disappear. Or see who can spot the most worms, birds, dogs, blue cars on the walk.
- Have a skipping competition. Everyone has a go on the skipping rope to see who can skip the most, or who can do cross-over skips, or skip and move at the same time. You might even get to win this one!
- Try to spend at least half an hour outside with the kids after school and work. Just kick or throw a ball about. And if it’s raining, put on raincoats and wellies and go for a march through as many puddles as you can.
- Set aside time at the weekend together for the family to do an activity together, such as swimming, cycling or walking. Often, if you get up and go early (kids are usually up anyway) the weather is fairer and you can happily settle in for the rest of the day knowing you’ve had your exercise!
This article first appeared in Sláinte, Ireland’s Health Magazine, Autumn 2009 issue
Do you consider your family active or do you struggle to get yourself and the kids out to exercise? Tell us what works for you in the comments below.