With any luck, by the time you read these words, the weather should have got a little bit warmer. You’ll be able to head outside in a t-shirt and a pair of sandals rather than a raincoat and a pair of wellies. What’s more, once the exam season is finished with and the school year has ended, you’ll be able to take the kids out to enjoy the sunshine.
And in doing so, you’ll be able to encourage them to be that little bit more active.
Benefits of Being Active for Kids
We all know that an active lifestyle is, pretty much, a healthy one. But exactly why is this the case? And what are the benefits of physical activity in childhood?
Exercise helps fight obesity
Childhood obesity is, if you’ll excuse the phrase, a growing problem. According to Public Health England, more than one in five British children are overweight or obese when they begin primary school, rising to one in three as they leave. Obese children are likely to be stigmatised and even bullied, and they’ll suffer low self-esteem. In addition, they’re more likely to become obese adults, who suffer from an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, among other things.
Exercise can become a habit
Sitting around is a habit that’s difficult to escape. Thus inactive children tend to grow to be inactive adults. Even if you’re a healthy weight, a sedentary lifestyle correlates with all manner of health problems, including an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. The sooner you can establish that occasionally running out of breath is a normal, healthy part of life, the better protected your kids will be further along the line.
Exercise makes you smarter
Exercise has a direct physiological effect on the brain. It increases the flow of blood to the cerebrum, promoting the formation of new capillary networks that’ll deliver oxygen to the surrounding grey-matter more efficiently. This will not only lead to improved focus when they’re doing very hard maths sums, but it’ll guard against debilitating mental health problems, too.
Exercise makes you sociable
Group activities also offer the opportunity for socialisation. Children who interact with other children will learn to deal with them better. Cooperation is a crucial component of team sports, but even non-competitive forms of exercise like dance will allow your kids to interact with their peers.
How Much Exercise Do Kids Need?
According to advice from the NHS, children under five should be active for around three hours a day, while those between five and sixteen can get away with just an hour of it. Of course, this is only a guideline. Children don’t suddenly become less in need of exercise when they turn five! Plus, some activities are more strenuous than others. But the general principle is clear and worthwhile: kids need to move around a lot, and you need to encourage them to do it.
Unless they’re asleep, babies will want to move around constantly. And this desire doesn’t go away when they learn to walk: that’s why they’re always trying to get up out of their chairs and explore in the middle of dinner. Sitting for long periods is to be discouraged – so don’t strap them into a buggy for the sake of keeping them under control. Just keep an eye on them and ensure they’re not free to wander where they shouldn’t.
Tips for Getting Started on Keeping Kids Active
It might not be obvious how to get kids to exercise, particularly if they’re not naturally inclined toward activity. With that in mind, let’s consider some ways to encourage them to be active.
Keep it fun
Every January, millions of Britons dutifully trudge to the gym in the hope of finally whipping themselves into shape. But by April, the gyms are once again empty, and those would-be dieters are once again sat in front of Netflix stuffing Quavers into their mouths. The truth is that for many of us, the gym is boring and exercise is difficult. So how can we persuade our children to exercise if we can’t be bothered?
The secret is simple: find a form of exercise that your children enjoy doing. Whether it’s football, rugby, tennis, skateboarding, gymnastics, fencing or rock-climbing, there’s bound to be some activity that they take to. Expose your children to enough of them, and one’s sure to stick.
Turn off the TV
But that’s not to say that a little discipline won’t go a long way, and that distractions shouldn’t be kept under control. Companies like Google and Facebook spend millions of dollars every day trying to find clever ways to manipulate our attention and keep us glued to our mobile devices. And children are more vulnerable than anyone.
For this reason, it’s worth having fixed rules about how long the kids can spend staring at screens each day. If they’re unable to occupy themselves in the digital world, then they’ll be more inclined to head out into the real one.
Making time to exercise
Finding time to exercise can be tricky. Once you’ve got back in from work, you’ll have to cook dinner – and by the time you’re done, you’ll have just a few hours left to cram an activity into. If you’re a single parent, or you work long hours, then the demands on your time will be even more pressing.
With a little bit of planning, finding the time to exercise is a great deal easier. Team sports require getting everyone to a given place at a given time, and so signing your child up for an after-school sports event will provide you with the impetus to get there.
Track your progress
Children love a bit of competition. Pin a chart to the front of your fridge showing the household’s current distance-running records, and you might well inspire them to new levels of enthusiasm. Plus, you’ll be able to demonstrate later that seemingly fruitless effort can lead to results months down the line. The ability to ‘defer gratification’, most famously illustrated by the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, tends to result in a reduced chance of developing an addiction, getting divorced, or – you’ve guessed it – becoming overweight. Thus, it’s another good habit to develop.
Family Activity Ideas to Keep Kids Occupied
Of course, the best sorts of activity are those that involve the entire family. Through them, you’ll be able to get the kids moving, while getting some exercise yourself. You might even have a little fun in the process! Happily, we have a few family exercise ideas to consider.
The simplest form of exercise is also the most functional. You can cut out unnecessary car and train journeys to cram a few more steps into your child’s day. But you can also make walking an event by taking them to a nearby forest, hillside or lake. If you’ve got a dog, then so much the better; walking is just as good for dogs as it is for children, and each will enjoy themselves all the more in one another’s company.
Many hands, as they say, make light work. If there’s a chore that needs doing, whether it’s painting a room or assembling a piece of flat-pack furniture, then enlist the aid of your kids. You’ll have an opportunity to bond with them while getting the job done.
A bicycle is a fantastic invention. Compared with a car, bikes cost barely anything to run, and they get you from place to place while exercising. A family cycling outing will allow you all to see the countryside and take in some fresh air, much the same as a walking break.
Family holidays in the sun will almost always present the opportunity to jump in the water. Moreover, learning to swim is a valuable skill that could one day come in handy. Why not get them into the habit with a trip down to your local swimming pool? Even if it isn’t equipped with a slide, it’ll get them comfortable in the water.
When you’re a kid, dancing is fantastic fun. It allows you to express yourself without fear of embarrassment, and it’s great exercise, too. The great thing about it is that you don’t have to take it seriously. You can all dance an impromptu jive in the middle of the kitchen floor, or you can play musical statues in the lounge whenever the fancy takes you.
If you’d like a little competition, but you don’t want to have to learn a bunch of complicated rules, then a treasure hunt is sure to appeal. Simply hide a few items around the house and garden, and attach a clue to each which points to the next.
Keeping kids occupied with a distraction that’s healthy can sometimes feel like a never-ending chore. But it needn’t be that way! Pick an activity that your kids enjoy doing, and you won’t have to badger them into doing it. We’ve provided a few ideas for getting kids active, and your local leisure centre will provide many more. Expose your kids to the right one, and they’ll stick with it!
If these ideas have inspired you, take a look at our kids’ trainers range – you’re sure to find the perfect pair of shoes to get your little ones up and active!