By Barbara Floria, Pure Matters
An estimated one in five American children is overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. Serving them healthier meals and exercising as a family can improve their short- and long-term health.
"Parents can actively help their kids maintain a healthy weight by getting up, getting out and together making exercise fun," says Colleen Greene, employee wellness program coordinator in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Doing so can make the whole family healthier."
Being obese increases a child's risk for several serious childhood medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and psychological disorders. And, in addition to childhood health risks, studies have found overweight kids are at greater risk of becoming obese adults, with all the health problems associated with obesity lasting through the life span.
Excessive "screen time" has been identified as a direct cause of obesity in children because it replaces physical activity, increases eating, and reduces metabolism.
"Limiting the amount of TV children watch, the number of video games they play or the amount of computer time they have is an important step parents can take to get their kids moving," says Greene.
Get 'em up
Like adults, children should be physically active most, if not all, days of the week. Experts suggest at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily for most children. Running, bicycling, jumping rope, dancing, and playing basketball or soccer are good ways for them to be active.
These strategies can help you help your kids get a move on:
- Don't call it "exercise." Instead, promote "playtime" and encourage activities that are fun and physical, such as hopscotch or jumping rope.
- Find out what your children like to do and make this a focus of your family activities. "Vary the activities, and let your children take turns choosing what the family will do," says Greene.
- Participate in community fitness events, such as charity walks or fun-runs.
- Use family walks or bike rides as a time to do more than just exercise together. Talk about school and family issues when you're taking a break.
- Relive your childhood by playing the games you loved as a kid. Play tag, Red Rover, hide-and-seek, or any other fast-moving game.
- Plan outings that involve physical activity, such as going to a skating rink, the zoo, or a miniature golf course.
- Turn chores into games. Try raking leaves and jumping in the piles. Have a water fight while washing the car. Pretend you're digging for treasure while gardening.
- Invite neighborhood kids to play games that require more participants, such as capture the flag or kickball.
But the best way for you to help your children get more exercise is to join in.
"If the whole family makes the conscious decision to be active, they all share the exercise benefits, and, most important, the family can enjoy the playtime together," says Greene. "Being active as a family encourages children to choose an active lifestyle well into their adult years."