We all know that exercise and physical activity is crucial to a child’s development. Children who become active at a young age are more likely to stay active throughout their teen and adult years. Active kids are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, develop strong bones and joints, and even perform better in school. But in a world with so many screen-related sedentary activities, it isn’t always easy to encourage kids to exercise. That’s why we have put together a list of 5 ways you can help get your kids to exercise without it becoming a battle.
- Set a good example
As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. What kind of example do you want to set for them? It’s not good enough to simply tell your children to exercise and make physical activity a priority. The point will hit home a lot harder if you lead by example. If your children see you putting in the effort to make sure you are moving your body every day, they are more likely to do the same. And bonus - physical activity is good for adults, too!
The most important step you can take to encourage your kids to exercise is to set a good example. It’s also important to remember that physical activity should be modeled as a fun, positive activity. If your kids see you exercising and enjoying yourself, they are more likely to want to join in on the fun. Don’t complain about exercise in front of your children or act like it is a chore. Being able to exercise is a privilege, so make sure your kids see it in a positive light.
You don’t have to wait until your children are older to model this behavior, either. Sure, it is a bit easier to get older kids involved in activities since they are more mobile, but you can model this behavior for babies, too. Babies are like little sponges. They are always watching you, taking in and absorbing more than you know. Go for walks with your baby, set your infant next to you while you do yoga. Plan weekend hikes as a family. The more ways you can find to work physical activity into your family life, the more likely your children are to develop good habits around exercise for themselves.
- Make it part of your every day routine
Getting kids exercising doesn’t have to be complicated. You can find lots of ways to make exercising with your kids part of your daily routine. The important thing to remember is that physical activity should be a part of each and every day. Lots of things you may not even think of as physical activity actually count toward this goal.
Go for a walk together around the neighborhood as a family or allow your child to walk the dog by themselves. Ride bikes or scooters around the neighborhood. If your kids are older, lots of cities have scooter and bike rentals which is a great way to explore your hometown or an area near your hometown. You can also head out with a destination in mind and use your bikes and scooters as transportation. Have a park nearby? Get on your bikes or scooters to get there instead of walking. Or maybe the family walks to breakfast at a nearby restaurant on Sunday morning. Try walking to the school bus stop on nice days instead of driving your children. Their physical health will thank you for it!
Physical activity can be even less complicated than those suggestions, too. Doing chores around the house, like cleaning out the garage or attic or mowing the lawn or raking absolutely count as physical activity. If you’re looking for something a bit more fun than a day filled with chores, putting on some music and having a dance party in your living room also counts. Anything you can do during the day-to-day to encourage your kids to move can count as exercise!
- Add some healthy competition
Some good-spirited competition may be just the motivation your child needs to encourage them to exercise. Parks and kid’s playgrounds are great places to bring your kids if you want to enjoy some physical activity along with a side of competition. Most have basketball courts, baseball diamonds, or even a track. Ask other parents or check out some parks yourself to see if you can find one with play equipment geared toward smaller children. That way the whole family can be involved and you can begin encouraging your child to exercise starting at a young age.
Have a free throw competition on the basketball court. You could have races up and down your street or at a local high school’s outdoor track. Encourage your child to start a kickball or baseball team with the local kids, or suggest a neighborhood-wide game of hide-and-seek or tag. Activity trackers can also be a good tool for older children. They will keep track of how many steps they have taken in a day and you can set up family challenges to help keep everyone motivated and on track.
The competition element doesn’t have to be complicated - it can be something simple, too, such as seeing who can do the most sit-ups or jumping jacks. Get creative! Just remember that the competition is all in good fun. Don’t take it too seriously or encourage your children to take it too seriously. Prizes can be fun, but avoid making them food related and also avoid tying them into any weight loss type goals, as these types of practices can lead to disordered thinking about food and fitness for young kids in the long run.
- Enroll them in a sport
Organized sports are a great way to get your kids to be more active and exercise more. Let them choose a sport or other activity they would enjoy, and encourage them to get their friends involved, too. After all, starting something new is always easier when you have a friend doing it with you!
If you need some ideas for what types of sports to enroll your kids in, soccer, basketball, gymnastics and swimming are all great options, but there are many more to choose from! Take a look at your child’s interests, hobbies, or skills and see if you can find a sport or activity that will complement those, it doesn’t have to be a team sport. In the summer, a sailing lesson or kayak rental can count. In the winter, try skiing or snowboarding and if you live near the mountains many schools offer an after school ski club. Or if your child adores horses, sign her up for horseback riding lessons.
Think outside the box! Karate, rock climbing, trapeze - these are all activities you can sign your child up for that are outside the realm of your typical organized sports, but might be the perfect fit for your child. Ask your child what they’re interested in and then ask other parents or use the internet to find something that would be a good fit. Children’s fitness classes, such as dance or yoga or even cheerleading are also a great option.
Your child will be having so much fun they won’t even realize how much exercise they are getting!
- Provide active toys
A great, easy way to get your kids to exercise more is to provide them with plenty of opportunities to do so. Make sure they have access to toys that encourage them to move, such as balls, jump ropes, or hula hoops. Chalk is also a great toy to use to encourage more activity. Draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk or use the chalk to draw bases or a finish line on the street in front of your house.
Bikes, scooters, balance bikes or tricycles are other great options for toys kids will love playing with so much they won’t even realize they are getting exercise. Wagons are fun, too. Help your child decorate their bike with tassels, streamers, stickers to make it into a racing bike. Or use some old cardboard boxes to create a race car out of a wagon. Adding a little something extra can spark your child’s imagination just enough that they will want to use these toys more often, which means more physical activity.
A toy doesn’t have to have wheels to help encourage physical activity, though. Kids jungle gyms, wooden playsets, and other play equipment are also a great choice, since they encourage kids to be active. Kids enjoy playing on playsets so much they won’t even realize they are exercising! A good indoor jungle gym also has many features that will keep kids entertained and active for hours when it's rainy autumn or cold winter. It is not something they will tire of after one brief use.
Getting kids to exercise doesn’t have to be a challenge. If you find easy ways to incorporate it into your every day life and provide fun equipment like bikes and jungle gyms, you’ll have your kids moving in no time!