Q: [All Ages] All my kids want to do lately is to play video games or watch TV. How can I get them to exercise?
A: In a day and age when technology is king, screen time is everywhere, and families keep busy schedules—sometimes we forget one of the most important things to our overall health and well-being: exercise.
Good exercise habits start at a young age and hold many benefits, including improved physical health, increased self-confidence and mood, enhanced quality of life and better academic and work performance. But recent studies show that nearly one in five Orange County fifth-graders are obese—increasing their chances of becoming obese adults with increased risks for disease. In fact, a startling 60 percent of deaths in Orange County alone are due to chronic diseases, many triggered by modifiable behaviors like poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle.
The good news? You can make a difference. Maintaining a healthy body and mind may not always come naturally, but it can be taught and modeled by parents and families.
Here are five easy ways to get your kids moving—and get you moving, too:
Get outside. Southern California is filled with local hiking destinations, winding bike trails and picturesque walking paths. Hike the Back Bay, take a jog on the beach or breathe in the fresh OC air at one of the hundreds of public parks. Exercise does not always have to be strenuous—low intensity activities are beneficial for health and can lead to engagement in more moderate to vigorous physical activity participation in the future.
Get to play. Remember that exercise is not limited to boring reps of pushups and jumping jacks. Play simple, old-fashioned games like tag, four-square, Pickle, Tetherball or Frisbee golf (tons of parks in OC have this available). Feeling a little more creative? Make an obstacle course in the backyard or put on a scavenger hunt with your child—make it as challenging as you think they can handle! If you find a way to actually play together and have fun, you and your child will enjoy exercising, and most likely do it more often. Remember that the most sustainable type of exercise is the kind you will enjoy.
Get educated. Educate your kids on the importance of exercise and why it is so vital. Skip the lecture—it can be as easy as saying after a bike ride, “I am so glad we did that exercise today, it will help us feel good for the rest of the day!” Kids are smart, and they will quickly get the picture if you simply talk about the benefits of exercise.
Get yourself moving. Studies have shown that kids are more likely to partake in physical activity if their parents are active. Don’t have time to hit the gym every day? It can be as simple as choosing to walk to school or the store, parking further away from your destination than necessary so you are forced to walk or even encouraging the stairs over the elevator. Whatever it is, model that movement!
Get social. Sign up for programs and classes to get kids moving in a very social environment. After all, the top three predictors of physical activity at any age are when it is fun, enjoyable and social. There are youth classes, camps and special programs for just about any sport or physical activity—basketball, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, soccer, T-ball, track and field, volleyball, swimming, water polo, yoga and overall athletic performance. Youth boot camp is also offered to get kids moving and playing games.
Katie Bathgate is the health and wellness coordinator at the Newport-Mesa Family YMCA.