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For generations, the hours after school and on weekends were filled with bike rides, ball games and tag with kids in the neighborhood. But today, physical play must compete with television, video games and the Internet for our children's attention. This change in childhood activities is affecting our nation's health. According to the CDC:

  • The prevalence of obesity among children aged 2-19 has increased from 7% in 1980 to 17% in 2010.
  • Overweight and obesity increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and osteoarthritis.
  • Physical activity helps build bone and muscle mass, promotes psychological wellbeing and may help young people do better in school.

Parents can make a big difference, helping their kids develop more active lifestyles. Here are some ways to make physical activity a regular part of your family routine.

Just have fun

For adults, getting enough exercise is often a chore. "I have to go work out" doesn't sound like much fun, does it? Instead of nagging your children to exercise more, invite them to play with you. Biking, skat­ing, and playing in the park or your back yard will get your kids' hearts pumping and be loads of fun.

Criticism and lectures can ruin a good time fast. Children will ask for help when they want to know how to do something better, and they'll let you know just how much coaching they want. Focus on having fun and don't let your high expectations discourage your kids from joining you for Frisbee or softball after dinner.

Exercise together - early and often!

One of the best ways to foster good exercise habits is to make fun physical activity something your family does together, and the sooner you start the better! Hiking with the baby in a pack or pushing your toddler on a trike can lay the foundation for associating activity with fun and family.

Once your little one is mobile, try "follow the leader" around your neighborhood or at the local playground. You can incor­porate running, hopping, skipping and more, the sillier the better. Just watch out - you might have trouble keeping up when it's your child's turn to lead!

As your kids grow and their schedules fill up with school and extracurricular activities, make a point of scheduling fam­ily time after work or school and on weekends. Plan regular hikes, games and active adventures, choosing things your children enjoy to keep their interest level high. Be prepared to switch gears mid-game, since many children like to bounce from one thing to another.

Encourage active play and plan pumped up parties

Invite your children's friends to join the fun! When you have kids over, give them bats and balls and send them outside to play. For a birthday or special weekend activity, take your children and their friends skating, swimming, bowling or hiking. Just don't forget the appropriate safety gear!

Attitude is everything

Organized sports are a natural choice for introducing healthy exercise into your child's life, and being part of a team can be an enriching experience. But if you pressure your child to win or are critical of his or her play, you may take the fun right out of the game. So keep it positive.

Also, remember that your child won't necessarily take to your choice of sport or activity. Some kids love to be part of a team, some are more comfortable with individual sports (such as swimming, gymnastics or martial arts) and others don't like competitive sports at all. Non-competitive activities, like dancing and hiking, provide plenty of exercise, too.

Foster a love of physical activity by encouraging your children to try different things and discover what they like best.

Positively reinforce your child's physically activity, whether she's the star of her soccer team or just loves to dance the afternoon away in her bedroom. Making exercise a regular, fun part of your family routine will help you and your kids stay healthy while strengthening family ties.

As your EAP, we at MHN are working to provide you with the information you need to achieve optimal health and wellness. You can call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and as always, all calls are confidential.

Date Reviewed: 3/30/12
Reviewer: J. Butterman

The articles and tools on this site are for informational and self-help purposes only. They should not be treated as a substitute for financial, medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice, or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified professional.