Sneaky Ways to Get Your Kids Moving

Try these stealth tactics to get kids under 12 to exercise (without realizing it).
9 Sneaky Ways to Get Your Kids Moving
Kids are more sedentary than they've ever been, which should come as no surprise since, as a whole, the U.S. population is too. Some causes are obvious: Playing once involved baseball gloves and sweat, and now it involves joysticks.

As a parent, you have a huge influence on how much activity your children get: You're not only a role model but an on-site coach.

But mandating exercise won't always work. "If you say, 'That's it, Billy, you have to sign up for a sport,' there's generally backlash," says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers International and author of Family Power: Five Simple Rules for a Healthy Weight Home. So it may require craftier tactics.

Below are nine stealth tactics to get kids under 12 to exercise without realizing it. For tips on how to teach good nutrition to your children, see How to Raise Thin Kids.

1. Buy video games that make them sweat.
Look for games that force children, through sensors attached to their wrists and ankles, to move around in order to win. "If you're at the arcade," says Molly Carmel, senior clinical director at the Academy of the Sierras weight-loss boarding school, "think Dance Dance Revolution instead of Tetris."

2. Rotate active chores.
Mowing the lawn, vacuuming, taking out the trash—all count as active exercise. Change the assignment board every week so everybody gets to do something new and work different muscles.

3. Make family night about moving around.
Ditch the movies in favor of bowling or miniature golf—exercises that are fun, competitive and can involve the whole family. Bike, hike, run races or play soccer or catch with a football or softball. All of these will help keep them on their feet.

4. Have a step competition.
"Something we've seen be really successful is when everybody in the family wears a pedometer and keeps track of how many steps they've taken over the course of a day," says Carmel. Write each person's daily score on a white board on the refrigerator. "At the end of the week, whoever wins decides the activity for the weekend." Low-end pedometers can be had for less than $10, and as long as everyone has the same model, all should be fair.

5. Walk, walk, walk.
Encourage kids to walk to the store, the library, their friend's house. Or anywhere the kids look forward to going. Walk with them. Strolling aimlessly for exercise is an adult quirk in their view, so make the destination count.

6. Give in.
Speaking of putting them on the heel-toe express as much as possible, cave in and get them the puppy they've been asking for. Dogs, after all, need to be walked two or three times a day. Make caring for the pet a condition of bringing Fido home, and you've built in additional daily exercise.

7. Pool resources.
Not every family has the money or a back yard big enough for a pool. To mitigate the temptation to crank up the AC and stay indoors when summer hits, Carmel recommends signing up for the community pool. There, the kids will have so much fun, she says, that they won't realize that they're exercising.

8. Be handy.
Buying a badminton or tetherball set can't hurt, but after five minutes any game you suggest can mysteriously be labeled "lame." Instead, strap on a tool belt and ask them to help you install a floodlight. Or a backyard basketball hoop. Or anything else extremely cool. They'll be your happy gofer and proud to take credit with you when the task is finished.

9. Be creative.
There are "very simple things you can do, like set up an obstacle course in the basement," says Miller-Kovach. "Think up ways they can actively play rather than sit in front of the television on a rainy day."

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