TV and video games are sometimes stiff competition for physical activity. But according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association children may lose weight if they simply watch less TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that viewing be limited to one to two hours of "quality programming" per day, by contrast with the current average of over four hours daily; that adds up to almost 12 years parked in front of the TV by the age of 70!
So, how do you get your kids off the sofa and on their feet? Skip the lectures. Nothing is guaranteed to turn kids off faster than nagging or harping on the benefits of moving around. Fun is the secret to successful family activities.
Do it together
Kids love it when their parents join the game. So walk with them to the park, throw a Frisbee, fly a kite, or kick a ball around. You're more likely to keep at an activity if it's something you enjoy. Let them tag along as you play ball, fish, hike, camp, surf, or cycle. Kids enjoy making things, so set them a concrete goal, such as building a go-cart or clubhouse. This not only gets them moving, it brings about a sense of achievement.
Create a routine
Rather than trying to work "quality fitness time" into your family schedule—which can often get bumped as more urgent tasks take priority—add movement to everyday activities. If your children's pocket money is conditional on performing chores, for example, make the chores more activity-based (walking the dog, washing the windows or car, raking leaves or running errands). Don't drive them to social engagements; encourage them to walk or ride their bikes instead.
Make outings more active
Even so-called passive entertainment such as museums and theme parks can involve physical exertion (Disneyland, for example, extends over 185 acres, including parking; that's a lot of territory for little legs to cover!) The kids want to go to the movies? Walk at least part of the way to the theatre. It's raining? Opt for energetic indoor pursuits such as bowling. Or turn up the stereo and have a dance contest.
Tap the power of simplicity
You don't need a garage full of sports equipment to have fun. The more structured an activity, the more likely a child's attention span is to switch off. They'll get at least as much entertainment out of a ball (soccer, handball, basketball), a length of rope (skipping), a piece of chalk (hopscotch, sidewalk art) or nothing at all (leapfrog, hide-and-seek, tag).
Make it safe
Many parents, frightened of strangers or busy streets, are tempted to keep their child safely indoors. But by tacitly encouraging inactivity, they're courting dangers of a different sort, since lack of fitness is linked with significant health problems later in life, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and osteoporosis.
If you want to safeguard your children, go with them to the park or playground; always supervise potentially risky activities such as swimming. You don't always have time to oversee playtime? Check into the activities offered at play groups, neighborhood centres, or summer camps, then choose a program run by responsible adults.