Kids and Exercise

Whatever happened to 'kick the can', hopscotch and the basketball games we used to play after school?
03/26/2012 05:12 pm ET Updated May 26, 2012

Whatever happened to 'kick the can', hopscotch and the basketball games we used to play after school? Now we can do all that (and more) in our video games and virtual worlds -- without sneakers! Kids seem to be doing a lot more clicking and a lot less moving these days. As children become more tech-savvy, they're becoming more sedentary. The "old-school" days of playing outside with friends and riding bikes have become almost obsolete. Between texting, computer games and endless hours of TV, there's no doubt that they're spending less time keeping active. And to make matters worse, kids' diets have lost a lot of nutritional value. More foods, especially those marketed toward children, are heavily processed, sugar-laden and very fattening. And as we super-size our already huge portions from one of our favorite shameless restaurants, we can blame poor food choices on kids and their propensity to be inactive. This trend explains the alarming rise in childhood obesity, as well as health problems that transcend adulthood.

Kids learn by example, and just like adults, they need exercise. Families are busier now than they were when we were growing up. In many cases, both parents work, which can leave less time in the day for exercise. The Center for Disease Control recommends that kids have at least one hour of physical activity every day. Here's a list of benefits that your kids can reap from exercise:

  • Less stress and fewer mood swings
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Ability to concentrate and better performance in school
  • A healthier weight
  • Stronger bones, muscles and joints
  • Better sleeping habits
  • Smarter food choices

There's nothing wrong with playing with tech gadgets and even watching TV, but it needs to be done in moderation to ensure it doesn't become a detriment to kids. In addition to limiting screen time, parents can be positive role models by being active themselves. Making exercise a priority for yourself can inspire kids to get up and get moving. Group exercise can be fun for the whole family, and it can replace inactivity such as eating, watching movies, and TV.

It's not always easy to incorporate exercise into your daily routines. Here are some tips to keep wellness in the family and get the kids jazzed about exercise!

Get Down to Their Level
Engage them in something they enjoy. If your child doesn't like jogging, try shooting hoops at a park or playing doubles tennis with friends. Even a little Dance-Dance-Revolution is better than Halo.

Weather the Storm
Bad weather? Don't make excuses to stay on the couch. Blast calories by shoveling snow in the winter, raking leaves on a chilly fall day or swimming laps instead of sitting indoors with the AC on.

Make it Fun
If kids think that exercise is a chore, they will try to avoid it. Emphasize the health benefits, but also make it something they'll enjoy. Find a playground and schedule to meet friends there at the same time on set days. Give kids an hour to run around freely with friends. At my company, Flywheel Sports, we're seeing an increasing number of groups of teens coming to our indoor cycling rides.

Use What's Available
Competitive sports in school and after school are excellent sources of exercise. For example, soccer and track are great extracurricular school activities for kids, especially if a lack of time is an issue for your family. Walking or biking to school, dancing and yoga are some other ways for kids to get in shape.

Today, kids are faced with as many demands as adults. The pressure to be popular, do well in school and, for some, particularly girls, the burden to meet the physical standards set by the media and peers. And when it comes to stress, kids often handle it unproductively through destructive behavior like overeating, sleeping more and sometimes using drugs. It's important for all kids to have outlets to burn off stress and enjoy being kids. And as I say all the time, exercise and physical activity definitely provide building blocks for a healthier life. So, get your kids moving -- in the right direction -- every day.