Youth learn a lot about physical activity from their families. Family members who enjoy physical activity can help children enjoy physical activity. Caregivers play a very important role in determining youth participation in physical activities—how much, how often, and what type of physical activity. Caregivers can also help youth balance non-active time periods (watching TV, using the computer, or talking on the phone) and physical activity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children and adolescents have 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily. This should be comprised mostly of moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, as well as muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity.
Participating in physical activity is necessary for your child’s growth and development. Younger children like short bursts of activity followed by short periods of rest. Adolescents do more structured and longer activities than younger children. For example:
• For aerobic physical activity, younger children like to run, jump, or play tag for short periods of time and then take a break. Adolescents can run for longer periods of time.
• For muscle-strengthening activity, younger children enjoy active play such as gymnastics, playing on a jungle gym, or climbing a tree. Adolescents may start a structured weight-lifting program.
Here are a few ways you can encourage your children to participate in physical activities that are enjoyable, appropriate for their age, and offer variety.
Model positive physical activity.
• Lead an active lifestyle yourself.
• Make family time physical activity time.
• Build physical activity into your family’s daily routine. Take a walk after dinner together or do housework or yard work together.
• Use local, low-cost, or free places like public parks, baseball fields, and basketball courts to be active.
• Attend family nights or other physical activity events at your child’s school or local community centers.
• Be active whenever possible. Walk or ride bikes to school or the bus stop instead of riding in a car. Parents of young children can enjoy the walk or bike ride, too.
• Include physical activity breaks in events such as long car trips, vacations, or visits to relatives or friends. Bring along beach balls, kites, jump ropes, or other items that can be used for active play.
Help children be active with their friends.
• Instead of watching television or playing video games, encourage your children to be active with their friends by playing tag, basketball, or by riding bikes.
• Give your children toys that encourage physical activity like balls, kites, and jump ropes.
• Make special events physical activity events, such as activity-based birthday parties or other group celebrations.
• Encourage your children to join a sports team or try a new physical activity.
Encourage physical activity for youth.
• Help youth participate in team or individual sports, as well as in noncompetitive activities such as bicycling, hiking, jogging, and swimming.
• Be positive about the physical activities your children engage in and encourage their interest in new activities.
• Help children be physically active by taking them to and from activities and events or helping them find other ways to get there.
• Encourage children to talk about how physical activity makes them feel and how much fun they have when they are active.
Limit “screen time” (time watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer).
• Know how much time you and your children spend watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer and then set limits for the entire family.
• The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that children 2 years or older should spend no more than 2 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, and using the computer.
• Do not use screen time as a reward or punishment for your child.
• Turn commercial breaks into activity breaks when watching TV. Do jumping jacks, pushups, or crunches or run in place during commercial breaks.
• Turn off the television during mealtime and homework time.
• Put the TV and computer in common areas like the living room instead of your child’s bedroom.
Partner with your child’s school.
• Find out what physical activities are offered at your child’s school.
• Talk to the principal or write a letter to the district superintendent if you think there should be more physical education at your child’s school.
• Become a member of the school health advisory council or the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
• Encourage the school to implement a comprehensive school physical activity program. This includes quality physical education, recess, before- and after-school physical activity clubs, walk- and bike-to-school programs, and school staff wellness programs.
• Help organize special events like walk-, dance-, or bike-a-thons, walk- or bike-to-school day, or a walking school bus.
• Volunteer to help with after-school physical activity programs or sports teams.
Making an effort to help your child lead a more active lifestyle will pay off for the whole family.
So what are you waiting for? Pack a healthy picnic, head to a park for a hike, or hop on your bikes for a tour of the neighbrohood. The fresh air and exercise will do you and your kids a world of good.
For more fitness tips, visit www.fitness.gov.