Far too many trees have given their all for self-help books to be published about breaking bad habits. All too often the bad habits we so desperately want to leave behind were engrained in us at a young age, and the earlier we learned them the more difficult they are to shake. On the other hand, the good habits we develop as young children are likely to stick with us into adulthood. It’s not rocket science – good or bad, eating, exercise and lifestyle patterns established when we’re kids have a long-term effect on our overall health for the rest of our lives. The take-away: start early promoting good habits with our children, like regular exercise, and save them a lifetime of mitigating unhealthy behaviors.
By encouraging your children to exercise every day, you can help them maintain a healthy weight and help prevent diseases like cancer later in life.
According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids need to be physically active to stay healthy, but 50% of boys and less than 34% of girls 12 to 15 are adequately fit. Kid’s that are unfit are at greater risk for cardiovascular and chronic diseases, cancer and psychological disorders. And that’s not all – 80% of overweight children become obese adults.
In its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, the CDC recommends that kids under the age of 6 enjoy natural physical activity like running, jumping and skipping each day, and that kids 6 to 17 exercise at an intensity level high enough to raise their heart rate for at least an hour, five days a week.
A good example. Your children watch and mimic your habits, good and bad. Model the behavior you want to instill in your kids. If they see you being physically active and having fun, they’re more likely to be active and stay active throughout their lives.
Born to move. Our bodies were designed to walk, run, jump and climb. Encourage your kids to spend more time walking, running, biking or skating as opposed to spending countless hours playing video games, surfing the web or watching TV. It’s even better when you join them.
A family affair. One of the most successful ways to positively impact your child’s exercise habits is to make it a family activity. Volunteer to coach his or her sports team. Train for and participate in a fitness event as a family. Take family hikes. Spend down time playing tennis, basketball, bad minton, golf or other sports together.
A focus on fun. Kids are more likely to keep exercising if they’re doing an activity they enjoy. Turn on music and have a dance party, or pack in lots of walking during trips to the zoo, park or miniature-golf course.
The more the merrier. Invite your kids’ friends to join the fun. Including friends and neighbors in family activities benefits everybody, and it’s much easier to make physical fitness a regular part of your child’s life when it is combined with time with his or her friends.
A gift of fitness. Bicycles, scooters, skates, soccer balls and other sports equipment, even active-play video games make great gifts that promote physical activity. Activity-tracking apps and devices are also great choices for older kids.
Time out on screen time. Limit your child’s time spent in front of a computer, tablet, phone or TV, but offer an appealing alternative like joining a local recreation center or after-school program, or taking dance or karate lessons. Check with your local parks and recreation department about youth sports teams.
Take it on the road. Make great vacation memories by keeping up your emphasis on being active. Plan your family vacation around activities your family enjoys or would like to try, like hiking, off-road cycling, kayaking, camping or paddle boarding. Activities you try on vacation might even become the hobbies your family will enjoy for years to come.
Being active not only puts kids on a path to a physically healthy adulthood by establishing good fitness habits early in life, physically active kids also are more likely to be motivated, focused, and successful in school. And mastering physical skills builds confidence at every age. Some of the important benefits of being active from a young age follow:
• Strong muscles and bones
• Healthy weight
• Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
• Better sleep
• Better outlook on life
Making exercise a family tradition reaps even more rewards: you all benefit from a healthy lifestyle; you spend more time together as a family; and you give your children a strong foundation for healthy living for a lifetime.