We all know that childhood obesity is on the rise. In fact, one-third of all American children ages 6-17 are clinically obese (more than 20% body fat). The first remedy is of course nutrition, which I have addressed more than once in this blog. But the second and equally important remedy is exercise – or movement in general. Between higher educational demands, homework loads, and video games/TV being used as babysitters or “decompress time” — our kids just aren’t moving like we used to. (Let’s not forget that 75% of public schools no longer have PE as a mandatory class.)
The solution – we must entice, motivate, and if need be push our kids to move more. But let’s face it, if we have to push them or demand they exercise, they’ll resist and/or hate it. So we have to make it fun. Now I know from all my clients (teens to adults) that you might have to drag them along initially, but once they see true results 90% of them get inspired and motivated to continue so they can see even more results (i.e., toned thighs or bigger biceps).
There are a myriad of exercise options that you can choose from and even rotate through to keep movement fun and challenging. Obviously there are the usual options that are great for calorie burn and muscle tone but cost for equipment and/or classes/lessons (soccer, gymnastics, etc). But here are a few examples of less common ways to get the kids moving, that don’t cost as much or require as large a time commitment:
- Boxing (just gloves and pads are required)
- Bike Riding (street or trails)
- Resistance Training (Age 16+)
- Homemade obstacle courses
- Skateboarding / skating
- Playing Xbox Kinnect or Wii
- Walking (with or without the dog)
The key is 30-60 minutes five times a week. For those reluctant children, if you join them in the activity they’re more likely to engage. Give them some choices, let it be their pick. As already stated you might have to make the designated exercise time “mandatory” initially, but with consistency comes results and with results comes enthusiasm and even addiction. (Don’t let that word scare you, fitness addiction doesn’t have to mean obsession, it’s more that the individual becomes self-motivated to continue because they just don’t feel as good without exercise.)
Keep in mind that children under age 16 should avoid resistance training (weight lifting) to any great extent as their muscles are still forming and risk of injury is higher. However, body-weight exercises are fine as long as kept to a minimum (i.e., pull ups, push ups, crunches, burpees, etc.)
For especially overweight children, any new exercise regiment needs to start slow, and have easy to reach goals so they do not get discouraged by their lack of endurance or strength. But it is essential that you push those goals forward each day. Example: if they can only handle a five minute walk or 10 jumping jacks, the next time its six minutes or 15 jumping jacks.)
Make it fun, make it consistent, make it a family affair when possible, and make it all about health and never about scale weight! Add in healthier nutrition (include them in shopping and cooking as well) and before you know it, the whole family will be fit and healthy.