Get Active

By Lauren Baumbauer

June 5, 2009 5 min read


Playtime is crucial for happiness and health

Lauren Baumbauer

Creators News Service

It's easy to let things get in the way of creative and active play. Busy school schedules create tired kids, which means they often resort to video games, television and computers for downtime.

This does not bode well for most children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, watching more than one or two hours of television a day means a child is more likely to be overweight, sleep irregularly and have behavioral problems, impaired academic performance and less time for active play.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends 60 minutes a day of physical activity for kids. This time should include aerobic activities, such as jumping rope, dancing, skipping, bicycling and running.

It's important not only to work kids' hearts. Muscle-strengthening activities, such as tug-of-war and climbing trees, work the muscles more than usual, while bone-strengthening activities generate force on the bones by impact with the ground, such as with jumping rope, basketball and running.

Active kids are healthy kids. According to the department of health, they are more physically fit, have stronger bones and may have reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Making sure kids are engaged in activity while they're young can help lead them into a healthier adulthood.

"If the goal is physical fitness, you want your kids to enjoy it," said Wendy Drummond, a National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and coach for Active Bodies OC, a fee-based after school enrichment program for age-appropriate and non-competitive activities for children in Southern California. To keep kids interested in fitness, it needs to be fun, not work.

"Encourage free play," she said. This is best done in the fresh air. "Children are automatically more active when they're outside." Any chance available to have kids outside rather than indoors will promote more activity.

Weekly hikes or regular trips to the park are a couple of simple and fun outdoor adventures. Games like tag or Simon says can also be quick and lots of fun, especially with the incorporation of silly rules. Wall climbing or roller skating activity parties will let your kids have fun as a family and with other kids.

If going outside isn't an option, video games that encourage movement such as dancing or tennis are better than no activity at all. "It isn't ideal, though, if video games are the only activity a child has, because they won't think of being active unless they're playing the game," said Drummond. "Renting a yoga or workout DVD from the library can be a fun activity for a parent and child to do together inside."

The Mayo Clinic recommends establishing a daily routine with kids, such as waking up early to walk the dog or taking walks after dinner. "Have a monthly family moon walk every full moon to put kids in the habit of doing something active and not avoiding it," suggested Drummond. Having your child pick an activity to do each day or week also makes them more a part of the process and gives them something to look forward to doing.

Breaking up the activities and starting slow if your child doesn't have the motivation after a long day can help jump start their energy. "Short bursts of physical fitness in the day are fine and can be used as a mood booster," she said.

Drummond also recommended moving during breaks. Putting on music if homework is stressful and dancing with your child can relieve tension. Ask if they're able to run around the block after school or find out how many balls they can get into a basketball hoop during a study break.

Joining organizations or classes offered by the local community where a child can go after school, on breaks or on weekends -- such as the local YMCA -- also bring opportunities for activities with new friends in fun, non-competitive environments, or even provide classes to help them learn activities they may never have done before.

One of the best ways to encourage activity in kids is by setting an example as the parent by also staying active. This creates an environment where exercise is a natural part of life. "Even parents talking about what activities they do will encourages their child to want to do the same," said Drummond.

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