Beyond Phys Ed

By Marilynn Preston

June 8, 2018 5 min read

There's a short chapter in my book "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" about how to raise an active kid, and here's how it begins:

"I grew up loving sports. I wish I could say the same for French or algebra. Early on, my folks stepped up to the plate and made sure my sister and I knew how to ride a bike, hit a ball, swim, bowl, roller skate, jump rope, ride a horse and play tennis, golf, even horse shoes.

"It never mattered that we weren't the best. The message was: Have fun; learn something new; be a team player; don't break anything."

And now? Now I'm an active adult who loves to play and loves seeing children at play, because that's how they develop their bodies, their minds, their focus, their imaginations, their sense of fun.

But it's no fun knowing how sick, overweight and sedentary tens of millions of kids are these days. In just a few decades, there's been a threefold increase in obesity. Kids are spending five to 10 hours a day on small-screen activity. School-age youngsters are getting hit with adult onset diabetes, heart disease and a range of cognitive disorders that all relate to doing very little, and eating too much of too many foods known to make them sick and overweight.

"The American Heart Association suggests that childhood obesity is currently the number-one youth-related health concern to parents," reports Brett Klika, CEO of SPIDERfit Kids and an expert on motivating kids to exercise. "This now eclipses concerns over drug and alcohol use."

Yikes! What's a parent to do? A big part of the problem is food-related. You can't outrun your fork. But getting your kids to be more active and playful would be a huge step forward for kids and families who, as Klika puts it, want to "create a culture of wellness in their home and live the best version of their life."

Here are three of his best discoveries. Take them to heart and not only will your kids' hearts be stronger and last longer but also you'll be setting them up to be lifelong movers and shakers:

*Kids Mirror Your Behavior

Klika knows, and all the research shows, that kids imitate their parents. If you're a mom or dad who takes time in your day to take a walk, ride a bike or work in your garden, your kid is very likely to play along. The opposite is also true. If you treat physical exercise as torture, and prefer sitting to moving, so will your kid. How and what you eat also has a huge impact on your child. "Having one obese parent increases the likelihood of childhood obesity threefold," Klika reports. "Two obese parents increases it tenfold."

*Kids Need to Feel Successful

Researchers call it "perceived competence and autonomy." Klika calls it a powerful motivator for kids. It's that feeling that comes from doing something physical that you enjoy and are good at. It doesn't have to be super-strenuous. It could be juggling -- great for building hand-eye coordination. It could be dancing, judo, kite-flying. Too many kids are forced into traditional sports, Klika explains -- high-intensity competitive sports that they essentially dislike and don't do well at. They grow up feeling like losers, and it stays with them for years. Parents would be much better off thinking out of the box, helping their child "form a relationship with exercise" that is positive and playful. "Any activity requiring movement is better for a child's health than sitting and watching television."

*Kids Care About Fun, Not Fitness

Preaching to your kids about weight loss, calories and the importance of exercise is not a winning strategy to their future health and wellness. Kids don't connect to their futures. They live in the moment, and that's where your focus should be.

"Ask them how they feel after they exercise," Klika tells parents. Encourage them to tune in to the joy, the sensations. Listen as they report back that they feel more energized and more alert. Now they're motivating themselves! And naturally they're likely to make exercise a lifelong habit.

When that happens -- and it can! -- you win a coveted place in the parenting hall of fame and bragging rights forever.

Marilynn Preston's weekly column, "Energy Express," can be found at

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