The time for families to exercise together is now.
Adolescent obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. (Ogden) Given the remarkably strong link between mental health issues and childhood obesity, (Dietz) this exponential growth of Generation Z’s waist line may be setting us up for a future with three times the number of depressed, manic or antisocial adults.
The statistics are staggering. In 2002, 23% of children ages 9-13 reported engaging in no physical activity whatsoever. (CDC) Government health initiatives like “Let’s Move” and local non-profit efforts like “It’s Time Texas” do what they can to improve the health and activity level of children and families, but they are fighting what appears to be an uphill battle.
“The obesity epidemic… is really just a symptom… of a much larger crisis. This is a crisis of culture,” Baker Harrell of It’s Time Texas told Evotrain. “We have a society that favors unhealthy. A society that has, over time, made it much easier to be unhealthy than it is to be healthy.”
A key example of unhealthy becoming the norm comes from a study conducted by National Public Radio. This study reports that one-third of parents struggle to get their children to exercise. Whether this is because the neighborhood isn’t safe, the family schedule isn’t conducive to physical activity or the kids just refuse to get moving, a healthy, active family lifestyle is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
This is where parents need to stand up and make changes. There are dozens of ways to keep children engaged and physically active so there truly is no excuse for a tripling of obesity and a future awash with mental health issues.
Not sure where to start? Try a few of the suggestions listed here:
1) Exercise in Disguise
By incorporating traditionally “playtime” equipment and activities in your child’s daily life, exercise with the family can be fun and exciting. Try some (or all) of the following:
Jump-rope. Throw in a few trick moves or a challenge to jump the fastest, highest longest, goofiest, you-name-it-est and let the good times roll. Or jump rather.
Hula hoop. Hula hooping is excellent for full body mobility. When you dare the kids to try kneeling down or lunging while keeping that hoop spinning, that full body mobility becomes full-body fun.
Dance. Blast the family’s favorite tune and boogie down. Get them moving in ways you might not have expected by playing a dance party rendition of “Follow the Leader.
2) Be a good sport
Team sports are not just for manicured fields or seasonal practice. Take the family to a park to kick around a soccer ball or play a rousing game of basketball. If tennis is more your style, try getting in some game time at one of the public tennis courts in Austin. Think motivating the family will take a few more jolly participants? Invite neighbors or the families of your children’s classmates.
3) Work in Work-outs. With style.
Include even more activity by making exercise moves the most exciting part of the day. Here are a few ideas on how to do just that:
Surprise them with creativity. Create your own deck of cards with made-up names of exercise moves on each and pull cards out at random. Each time you pull out a card have your kids show you their interpretation of an exercise move that might be called a “Peter Piper Picker” or “Starburst Hop.”
Use TV time as exercise time. During commercials have your kids call out their favorite exercise moves (fun names are optional) and join in with them as they show their moves off to the rest of the family.
Exercise in fun places. Have you ever heard the expression, “setting is everything?” Take advantage of that idea by incorporating fun work-out moves in unusual places like the swimming pool or the mall. Many children dream of hearing mom call out, “Sumo Wrestlers, GO!” and demonstrating an awkward squat walk in the mall for an unsuspecting audience.
What are your family’s favorite physical activities? Share your ideas with us below!
Dietz, WH. Overweight in Childhood and Adolescence. New England Journal of Medicine 2004; 350: 855-57.
CDC Physical Activity Levels Among Children Aged 9-13 Years. United States, 2002. MMWR 2003; 52: 785-88.