Remember when childhood was synonymous with running, jumping, and playing games?
These days, kids spend more and more time parked in front of the television, video games, or computer screens. It shows. Since the 1980s, rates ofchildhood obesityhave soared from 11% to 30% in developed nations. They’ve leaped from only 4% to 14% in the developing world -- proving that the problem of inactivity is a worldwide crisis.
What can you do to encourage the whole family to become more active and a lot healthier? Plenty. But with a little creativity, you can inspire the whole family to get up and become more active.
Become an Active Role Model for the Kids
Behavioral scientists say one strategy to make exercise fun is to turn the activity into a friendly competition. Family members can compete against one another or, in larger families, can divide into teams.
Rewards are also a great way to keep everyone motivated -- especially rewards that encourage activity, such as new running shoes or a cool new pedometer. Another trick is to make activity part of everyday life. Encourage kids to share in vigorous household chores. Plan vacations built around activities such as bicycling, canoeing, or hiking. Get into the habit of walking when you do errands, and encourage kids to join in.
7 Ways to Get Started on Family Fitness
Turn chores into fitness challenges. Chores such as vacuuming, cutting the grass, washing the car, or cleaning out the basement burn extra calories and give muscles a workout. Plan a weekend day when the whole family pitches in. Make a game of it by offering a reward such as a movie or a dinner at a favorite restaurant for a job well done.
Explore your local parks.Most communities have parks where you can hike together as a family. Check online or with your local parks and recreation department for a complete list. Put a map of local parks on the refrigerator and challenge the family to visit everyone over time.
Walk the dog.Too many family dogs -- like their families -- areoverweight. Dog walking offers a great opportunity for being active, one that benefits everyone. Encourage everyone to take turns or go together on dog walks. Don’t have a dog? Chances are you have elderly neighbors or people who travel who would welcome the offer to give their pooches a vigorous walk. Another option: volunteer to walk dogs at the local animal shelter.
Dance, dance, dance.Whether it’s country & western or ballroom, dancing can be so much fun that it doesn’t even feel like exercise. Yet dancing burns calories and improves cardiovascular fitness. Many communities offer dance programs. If you have younger kids at home, all you have to do is put on some lively music with a great beat and throw your own dance party.
Step up your everyday activity level.If your kids love gadgets, buy everyone in the family a simple pedometer (a strap-on device that counts steps). “Challenge the family to see who can tally up the most steps during the week,” Or set a goal for the whole family to contribute their share. Keep track of the results on your refrigerator.
Assign an activity director.Each week, assign one member of the family to be the activity director. The task: choose an activity that the whole family will try. Encourage the family to take on something new, whether it’s bicycling, bowling, rollerblading,swimming, canoeing, kayaking, ice-skating, or playing Frisbee.
Plan an active vacation.Make reservations to stay at hotels or motels withswimmingpools or other options for activities. Take the family camping and hiking. If you plan to explore a city, decide on city walks that you can take together every day.
Whatever you choose, the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that kids engage in at least one hour ofaerobic activitiesa day. At least three days a week those activities should be vigorous. Young people should also shoot for doing muscle-strengthening activities at least three days a week.
That may seem like a tall order, especially for kids hooked on videogames or computer pastimes. But the benefits of becoming more active as a family are enormous. Studies show thatactive childrenand adolescents are fitter, have stronger bones, better cardiovascular health, lower risk of developinginsulin resistance, and overall healthier body composition. They’re also more self-confident and less prone to sufferingdepression.