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We all have a responsibility to get kids moving

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21 October 2013

Changing the habits of your children can make such a big difference to their wellbeing. Active kids are not only happier, they're healthier too. Kids fitness expert and Fitness Writers' Association member Lucy Miller offers up these tips for parents.

These days it’s all too easy to sit in front of the TV and play computer games, but what happened to playing outside in the great outdoors? It doesn’t take much to get kids outside and having fun, and as parents and fitness professionals, we all need to take responsibility.

According to a national health survey by the British Heart Foundation, around 30 per cent of boys and 70 per cent of girls in England and Scotland aren’t getting the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity. Interestingly, one survey found that 61 percent of boys and 74 percent of girls would like to do more physical activity, which is very encouraging - so let’s encourage it. There are plenty of benefits to be had.

A study, for example, in Sweden found that if kids’ PE time was raised to 200 minutes per week instead of 60, we would see a significant difference in their bone mass, structure and muscle strength. Previous research has also shown that students who get more exercise do better in the classroom, while having more control over their health and weight. So what are we waiting for? Here are my top tips to getting kids more active.

Make it fun

Kids (and adults) are conditioned to think exercise is boring and hard work, but the key to getting your kids to move more is to associate activity with enjoyment. Start a weekly rounders game with their friends, take a walk to the park after dinner and play tag as a family. You could enroll your kids in an activity they’re interested in, like dance, gymnastics, karate, or swimming - and encourage active play like hide and seek or Stuck in the Mud. The more fun they have, the more they will choose to move rather than sit.

Start small

We all lose motivation when we try to do too much too soon, kids included; it’s unsustainable. Running a 5k may be a goal that’s out of reach for your family for the moment, but running for two minutes and then walking for five isn’t.

What’s most important for motivation is accomplishing and setting a goal that’s maintainable and reachable. Set little bench marks that will get you to you and your children’s goal and remember once they are there, you need to reward them so they are eager to set another new challenge.

Take control of the box

Studies show that every hour we spend watching TV shortens our lifespan by 21.8 minutes. A recent study found that kids in the UK spend on average five hours per day in front of a screen: watching TV, surfing the internet and playing computer games. This amount of screen time makes it really hard for kids to have an active healthy life, so take control of the TV, and ration their screen-time. With no buttons to press or controllers to use, they’ll be hard-pressed not to want to head outside or do something to get off the sofa.

Make chores fun

Get the kids to help out with gardening, mowing the lawn and household maintenance. It could be helping to weed, bringing top soil in a wheelbarrow to where it’s needed, collecting the sticks from the lawn before mowing, or planting flowers and veggies. Give them some responsibility and a project to engage in and they won’t notice time ticking by and the fact they are using every muscle in their body too.

Treat night 

Replace pizza and a movie night with a family fitness night at least once a month. Have a match using the Wii, do a dance off to their favourite song or have a snowball fight using rolled up socks. Get the kids excited about it and have some healthy snacks like home-made popcorn or fruit skewers to hand to make it feel like a real treat.

Wish time

Sit down and write a fitness wish list together. Write down every physical activity they’d like to do, and let them choose a few every month. Pop on the fridge and tick them off as you go.

Join the club

Join a running club or event like parkrun. parkrun is a 5k run that takes place in local parks around the country. You can walk or run it together and each week try and beat your time. It’s a fun community event, where your children can make friends or look forward to going every week, especially if the sun is shining. Sign up at parkrun.org.uk.

Lucy Miller (http://www.lucymiller.me.uk) is a Freelance Journalist and Children’s Fitness Specialist, helping schools and parents to get their kids healthier and more active.

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