My colleague Kyle Morrison, an exercise physiologist with the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Healthy Weight Center, is this week's guest blogger.
Encouraging kids to be active is one way parents can help children maintain a healthy weight. Parents can instill a love of physical activity and help kids fit it into their everyday routines. Doing so can establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime.
Healthy, physically active kids also are more likely to be academically motivated, alert and successful. They will have stronger bones, better manage their weight and sleep better. It can be hard to motivate some kids to be active.
Three keys include:
1. Choosing age-appropriate activities is essential: If you don't, children may be become bored or frustrated.
2. Giving kids plenty of opportunity to be active: Kids need parents to make activity easy by providing equipment and taking them to playgrounds and other activity hot spots, including community pools, ice rinks, parks and playgrounds.
3. Keeping the focus on fun: Kids are far less likely to participate if they don't enjoy it.
When kids enjoy an activity, they want to do more of it. Practicing a skill - whether it's swimming or riding a tricycle improves their abilities and helps them feel accomplished, especially when the effort is noticed and praised. These good feelings often make kids want to continue the activity and even try others.
The best way for kids to be active is by incorporating physical activity into their daily routine. Toddlers to teens need at least 60 minutes daily. This can include free play at home, active time at school and participation in classes or organized sports.
It's helpful to think of being active in categories. Here are my recommendations.
Preschoolers: Preschoolers need play and exercise that helps them continue to develop important motor skills - kicking or throwing a ball, playing tag or follow the leader, hopping on one foot, riding a bike, freeze dancing or running obstacle courses.
Although some sports leagues may be open to kids as young as four, organized and team sports are not recommended until they're a little older. Preschoolers can't understand complex rules and often lack the attention span, skills and coordination needed to play sports. Instead of learning to play a sport, they should work on fundamental skills.
School-age: With school-age kids spending more time watching television and playing computer games, the challenge for parents is to help them find physical activities they enjoy and feel successful doing. These can range from traditional sports like baseball and basketball to Scouting, biking and hiking.
As kids learn basic skills and simple rules in the early school-age years, there might only be a few athletic standouts. As kids get older, differences in ability and personality become more apparent. Commitment and interest level often go along with ability, which is why it is important to find activities that children feel successful participating in and will do on a consistent basis. Schedules start getting busy during these years, but don't forget to set aside some time for free play.
Teenagers: Teens have many choices when it comes to being active - from school sports to after-school interests, such as yoga or skateboarding. It's important to remember that physical activity must be planned and often has to be sandwiched between various responsibilities and commitments.
Do what you can to make it easy for your teen to exercise by providing transportation and the necessary gear or equipment. In some cases, the right clothes and shoes might help a shy teen feel comfortable biking or going to the gym.
In addition to a child's age, it's important to consider his or her fitness personality. Personality traits, genetics and athletic ability combine to influence kids' attitudes toward participation in sports and other physical activities, particularly as they get older.
Your positive attitude as a parent can go a long way. It will often help a child who is reluctant to exercise or be active. It's helpful if you are active yourself and support your kids' interests.
- Kyle Morrison