Moving Kids Toward Fitness

As parents, educators and care givers, we want our children to be healthy and to feel good about themselves. Promoting fitness can help! Fitness for kids starts with eating healthful meals and snacks, taking part in enjoyable physical activities and developing a positive attitude. While all the keys to fitness are important, this article focuses on physical activity.

Physical Activity Pays Dividends
Being physically active is a vital part of the health equation. Unfortunately, most of us, including children, are not active enough. So, there’s no better time than now to encourage youngsters to get moving and stay active throughout their lives. If you need some convincing reasons, consider the many short- and long-term health benefits listed here. Regular physical activity:

  • improves physical fitness levels
  • promotes healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • builds endurance and muscular strength
  • makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight
  • lowers risk factors for some serious health problems such as heart disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • helps keep blood pressure in check
  • fosters self esteem
  • reduces stress

What Type? How Much?

Physical activity is about moving the body. All activities (including active play, helping with chores at home, taking a stretch break, exercising or competing in an organized sport) count, but two types are especially beneficial.

  • Aerobic activities speed up kids’ heart rates and breathing, which helps develop cardiovascular fitness. Jumping rope, playing soccer and in-line skating are examples of aerobic activities.
  • Strength and flexibility activities help kids develop strong bones and muscles and improve coordination. Doing pull ups, climbing or playing on a jungle gym builds strength; stretching, Tae-Kwon Do or yoga increases flexibility.

Experts say that children and teens need at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most– preferably all– days of the week. That may sound like a lot, but it is an achievable goal, especially since they can accumulate activities over the course of the day. Kids can build activity into their routines (climb the stairs at the mall instead of taking the elevator, play kickball or hockey, move around while talking on the phone), participate in gym classes at school and enjoy fun activities such as skating, shooting hoops or dancing to favorite music.

Smart Moves for Children suggests different types of activities for kids in their pre- and early teen years. You can vary the activities to help younger or older children choose ones that are right for their ages and skill levels. (Hint: Ask a doctor, health educator or Phys. Ed. teacher for advice about the safety or appropriateness of specific activities.)

Smart Moves for Children
Get moving at home and school.
Climb the stairs more often.
Help out with yard work
Walk or ride a bike to do an errand.
Several times a week, do activities that strengthen your heart.
Swim laps.
Take a 30-minute bike ride.
Run around a track.
Several times/week, try a recreational sport.
Try your hand at ping-pong.
Get in a volleyball game.
Play softball.
A couple of times a week, take part in fun activities.
Play miniature golf.
Go bowling.
Play tennis.
A couple of times a week, stretch and strengthen your muscles.
Learn karate moves.
Take a dance or gymnastics class.
Try rope climbing at the gym.
Limit the amount of time you spend…
Watching TV or videos.
Playing computer games.
Talking on the phone.

Safety Check!

Children are precious, so it’s important to set and enforce sensible safety rules for activities. Consider these:

  • Work Up to Workout:
    If kids have been inactive, urge them to “get physical” gradually. Stretching before and after activities, walking or biking after school or washing the car can set the stage for more vigorous exercise.
  • Get in Gear:
    Ensure use of helmets and/or knee pads, face guards, chest protectors and wrist guards when biking, skateboarding, riding a scooter, snow boarding, skiing, skating or playing foot ball, hockey or baseball. (When it starts to get dark, adequate lighting, light colors and reflective patches on clothing and equipment make children more visible.)
  • Location, Location, Location:
    Know where youngsters play or exercise and check out safety conditions. To help prevent injuries, teach children how to be safe around swimming pools; play ground, sports or gym equipment; and in the community.
  • Eyes Wide Open:
    Encourage children to participate in age appropriate activities. (For example, they should delay starting a weight lifting program until their late teen ycars, when muscles and bones are more fully developed.) Make sure kids are properly supervised.
  • Your Attention, Please:
    Explain to youngsters that distractions such as headsets may pose a danger during activities that require their full attention, such as running, walking or skating.
  • Keep it Fluid:
    Proper hydration is important. Supply fluids (water or sports drinks are best) – especially for children, who do not handle extremes of hot or cold weather well – before, during and after physical activities.
  • Just in Case:
    Despite your best efforts, accidents and injuries can occur. Teach youngsters how to get help for themselves or others.

Calling All Adults!

Young people learn from those around them. Do your part to promote enjoyment of physical activity as a way of life. Here are a few ideas:

  • Be a role model. Be physically active yourself and, when feasible, include kids in your activities.
  • Plan fun family activities. Involve the kids in planning hikes, bike rides, bowling or an action-packed day at the park.
  • Urge kids to team up with their friends. It’s more fun to walk, jog or take a class with others.
  • Promote health in schools. Support physical education as an important part of the school curriculum.
  • Check local recreational facilities. Supervised after-school, weekend or summer activities, such as swimming, basketball or tennis, may be available.
  • Get involved. Participate with kids in events for good causes.
  • Sing their praises. Praise youngsters for being active, progress in learning a sport and improved performance.
  • Set limits for sedentary activities. Youngsters need time in their busy lives to be physically active.

Children and teens are more likely to be physically active if they receive support and encouragement from parents, caregivers, teachers and health professionals. It also helps to keep the focus on fun, participation and being a good sport rather than on competition. Use your influence to help young people experience how good being physically active can make them feel!

©2002 International Food Information Council Foundation