Children playing outside with parents
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Today’s kids weigh more and move less than ever before. According to state data from 2017, approximately 20 percent of Franklin County youth in kindergarten through twelfth grades—higher than the state average—are in the 95th percentile for their weight and considered “obese” by BMI standards.

Lack of exercise is no doubt a contributing factor: Less than 22 percent of school-aged children and adolescents achieve the minimum recommended amount of physical activity (60 minutes) each day.

What’s changed? For one thing, the simple suggestion to “go outside and play” now works only for those lucky enough to have both neighborhood friends who are home and adults around to keep an eye out.

For another, the proliferation of screen-based entertainments, especially smartphones, now means kids don’t actually have to leave the house—or even the couch—to be social. Moreover, many schools, under pressure to raise standardized test scores, have cut back on recess. And kids’ sports leagues are becoming increasingly competitive, leaving the child of average skills on the sidelines—if he or she makes the team at all.

Fitness by example

The good news is that many of the negative trends can be countered by parental effort. Moms and dads who model active behavior and a healthy diet can make a big difference. That means doing things like walking together, hiking on weekends, and being active when you take kids to the playground. If necessary, put this priority into your calendar: Schedule at least 30 minutes three times a week to be active with your kids.

Parents also can help by setting ground rules and expectations. While you’re getting dinner together, tell the kids not to watch TV while they’re waiting—they can help you, or do Wii Fit (an active play system used with the Nintendo Wii console) for 30 minutes. Even doing a craft is better than sitting on the couch. 

Experts acknowledge that, given the demands on parents’ time, making family fitness a priority is easier said than done. It may help to know that these activities are among the most important things you can do for your child. The American Heart Association reports that physical activity influences weight, reduces blood pressure, raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol, reduces the risk of diabetes and some kinds of cancer—and leads to greater self-confidence and higher selfesteem. Happy exercising!

Make activity part of life

The best way to create healthy exercise habits is to incorporate physical activity into daily life. Here are some ideas for getting your kids up and moving.

  • Find an exercise or sport your child enjoys. In addition to team sports that schools and communities offer, dance, tennis, swimming, and martial arts are good options for youngsters and teens not interested in team sports.
  • Check your local YMCA or recreation program for low-cost classes.
  • Check cable and online listings for free fitness or yoga classes you can do at home with your child.
  • Allow kids to walk to and from school, if possible.
  • Put your child in charge of walking the dog.
  • Crank up the music and sing and dance as you clean together.
  • Encourage biking or walking with friends as opposed to texting.
  • Use the time during TV commercials to do quick workouts, such as abdominal or stretching exercises or a series of planks. As a bonus, if you do this, kids won’t be using commercial time to get a snack.
  • Encourage an exercise journal—kids respond to being held accountable.

How much excercise should kids get?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that school-aged children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17) participate in a variety of physical activities they enjoy that are appropriate for their age. They should be physically active for 60 minutes or more each day and include these elements:

  • Aerobic activity: either moderate- or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity (this should make up most of the 60 or more minutes a day).
  • Muscle-strengthening: activities that involve moving muscles against resistance, such as using free weights, elastic bands, or workout machines or walking/running up stairs or hills (at least three days a week).
  • Bone-strengthening: activities that produce an impact on the bones, such as hopping, skipping, jumping rope, running, weight lifting, or playing sports like volleyball, tennis, and basketball (at least three days a week).

Benefits of physical activity

Regular exercise helps children and adolescents control weight, build strong bones and muscles, improve heart health, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Physical activity reduces the risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity