Keeping Kids Active Can Be Child’s Play

We all know that physical activity does a body good, but getting a move on also provides lots of mental health benefits – for us and our offspring. Exercise not only helps improve physical health, but also boosts mood, focus and brainpower.

 

Turns out that once they get some of the wiggles and jiggles out, kids are happier and more focused. A study done with children from ages 7-9 found that the kids who were exercising every day were more attentive and had more cognitive flexibility. Kids with and without ADHD were able to read more effectively and pay attention to things at an increased rate after exercising. They also found that the odds of youth suffering from depression dropped significantly when they were involved in an exercise program.

Seems like a no-brainer that we would want to take advantage of these great benefits with only positive side effects, but that can be easier said than done when kids want to stay planted in front of the Xbox. I’ve come across a few ways to keep kids moving and thought I’d share.

Let Them Choose
I can’t tell you how many evenings I’ve had to drag whiny kids to karate, or had weekends ruined by ballet or soccer practices that they fought tooth and nail because they just weren’t into it. As parents, we want to do what’s best for our kids, and keeping them active and involved is a good thing, but when we sign up for the season based on their fleeting interest or choose an activity because it’s something we like, it can be an uphill battle that is no fun for kids or parents.

Many programs will allow a free trial and kids can feel out whether it is something that will sustain their interest. Since my two youngest kiddos fell in love with rock climbing, they’re rushing me out the door to practice – I can even bribe them to get homework done quickly so we’re not late! That’s what I call a win-win.

You’re It!
Organized sports aren’t the only way to go, though. Tag, kickball and catch are just a few of the many games that offer a great way to enjoy family time while being active. One of my favorites is setting a timer and handing each kid a laundry basket for a little friendly competition to see who can pick up the most toys, shoes and other stray items around the house. Finding small ways to get moving together on a frequent basis creates the habit of staying active and memories filled with laughter and happiness, which isn’t only good for your relationship with your child but also your child’s relationship with exercise!

Pump Up the Jam
Dancing is great fun and great exercise. Impromptu dance parties can happen pretty much anytime, anywhere with little ones, just add tunes and get your groove on. I had to learn the hard way that once they become tween-agers, parental dancing must be relegated to home or other appropriate venues (which apparently does not include Abercrombie & Finch no matter how dance-clubby it seems in there) in order to avoid an exasperated eye roll. If your mini-me digs dancing, you’ll be glad to know that not only does dance provide fun and exercise, but also improves cognition and boosts mood.

After dancing for an extended amount of time the body releases dopamine and serotonin, according to this article by Harvard Medical School. Letting loose and shaking your groove thang along with them does double duty in boosting Mom’s mood and making last memories, too!

Limit screen time
If you sometimes feel like you’re talking to the back of an iPad more often than you get direct eye contact from your child, you’re not alone. While practically impossible to completely avoid screen time, it’s worthwhile from a mental and physical health perspective to set some boundaries.

Studies show that screen overload makes kids more irritable and makes learning harder, not to mention that the slumped posture we fall into when looking at screens has a negative affect on mood.

Luckily, there are some helpful apps that can assist in keeping electronics in check including: screentimelabs.com, OurPact, kidscreentime.com, and you can go into the settings of iphones and most game systems to set a daily rime limit for each device. I have found this to be very helpful in keeping the balance between screen time and sunshine!

Active Screen Time
And when it is time for electronics, we are lucky to have lots of options to incorporate them into keeping kids active instead of just playing Candy Crush. Pokémon GO gets kids on their feet chasing down creatures of all shapes and sizes and when it’s too hot, cold or rainy to get outside for activity, Wii Sports offers all kinds of activities to keep kids moving instead of parked in front of Netflix. My girls especially love the dance games that play their favorite songs.

Fido = Fitness
Furry friends are a huge help in keeping all members of the family active. Research shows that kids (and parents) are more active with a pet in the mix. It’s unclear whether dogs make people more active or if active people tend to adopt dogs more, but either way there is a correlation between healthy, happy kids and sharing space with fur babies. Making a daily dog walk part of our routine is a mind and body boost for every member of the family. Just feeding, playing with, cleaning up after and petting a dog, cat, ferret or other critter adds activity to each day that we may not get otherwise without even noticing it.

Take a Hike
Speaking of walking, it’s a nice and easy way to work some activity into the day, even sans canine. If you live close enough, walking to school is a great choice of transportation since getting blood pumping helps with focus. That weekend stroll through the mall searching out new sneaks (they grow out of them so fast!) counts, too. Walking and hiking in nature has extra health and happiness benefits because of the way nature stimulates our brains. It has been shown to help people become more creative in problem solving and helps those with ADHD improve concentration. Find a trail near you.

Dive In
Swimming is a fun way to get kids active – who doesn’t love splashing around in water on a hot summer day? Swimming is also a great way to protect you kids joints while getting their heart rates up. Being near water itself has health benefits, water has been shown to help relieve stress and releases serotonin and dopamine, and trips to the beach has also been shown to help increase creativity. To get the blood really pumping in the pool, lake or ocean, add in a few rounds of sharks & minnows, water tag or jailbreak.

On a Roll
Bikes, skateboards, scooters and roller blades offer endless opportunities for fun. A family bike ride is a great way to explore the neighborhood, or take to the trails. When weather isn’t cooperating, heading to a roller rink can provide hours of active family fun. If you’ve got an adrenaline junkie on your hands, there are indoor and outdoor skate parks seemingly popping up everywhere recently, so grab boards, scooters, bikes or blades and enjoy.

I hope some of these suggestions help you incorporate more active family fun into your days. I would love to hear about some of your favorite ways to keep kids active!

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Founder and CEO of Trulee Foods, Sherry Lee White speaks, blogs and contributes to national publications on the topics of mind-body and food-mood relationships as well as other aspects of wellness.