Dr. Ellen L. O’Sullivan, M.S., Ph.D.

Public Health Professor

Southern Connecticut State University

Fitness Food Fun Feelings

Q:  My kids hate the idea of "exercise." How can I change their attitude and get them to be more physically active?

Q:  My kids' schedules are jam-packed with school, homework and after-school activities. How can we squeeze physical activity into an already overcrowded schedule?

Q:  What are some physical activity ideas for my kids that don't cost a lot?

Q:  What are some fun activities for kids that would promote positive self-esteem?

Q: My kids hate the idea of "exercise." How can I change their attitude and get them to be more physically active?

A:  

I can understand where your kids are coming from–many people are turned off by the thought of "exercise" because they picture time spent being bored or sweaty. I suggest you strike "exercise" from your vocabulary and talk about physical activity in terms of "fun" and "play" instead. Adults and kids alike are more eager to get moving when it's enjoyable. Playing with your kids can be the best exercise of all!

Encourage your kids to do the activities they love most and to do something fun on a daily basis, if possible. Riding a bike, tossing a Frisbee or jumping rope is fun and good for them, too. Make sure you get into the act! Lead them on a "nature walk" around the neighborhood to identify plants and birds or just to talk about their day. Romp with them in the backyard or turn on some old rock and roll and teach them the twist. Remember to let kids pick things they like to do. Soon they'll ask you to schedule the next "play date!"


More information:
Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time!
Make Fitness a Family Affair

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Q: My kids' schedules are jam-packed with school, homework and after-school activities. How can we squeeze physical activity into an already overcrowded schedule?

A:  

There's no doubt that kids today are in a time crunch. In fact, "real" free time among children ages 12 and under has declined from 40% of their day to 25% of their day. And yet, kids are spending more time than ever in sedentary activities. On average, children and adolescents between 8 and 18 years of age spend more than 7 ½ hours watching TV or movies, listening to music, playing video games, or on the computer. How much screen time do your kids log each day? If it's more than an hour or two, they can spare some time for physical activity!

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Every kid needs to do some aerobic, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening activities – each at least 3 times a week. Before you protest that your kids don't have a free hour, be reassured that accumulating activity in shorter chunks of 10 minutes or more benefits them, too. Even the busiest kids can work in a few daily "take 10" breaks to walk the dog, make the beds, shoot some baskets, pedal an exercise bike or do some stretches and jumping jacks. I think you'll find that your children do have time to move when you set limits on TV time and encourage short bursts of physical activity.

Another option is to ask your child to choose some type of physical activity as one of his/her after-school activities. This needn't be a team sport but should be something they enjoy such as ice skating, martial arts or dancing. Also, try freeing up a day or two after school for active play such as jumping rope or riding bikes.

More information:
Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time!
Setting Limits on Screen Time

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

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Q: What are some physical activity ideas for my kids that don't cost a lot?

A:  There's a world of free or low-cost activities your kids and the whole family will enjoy. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

Start in your own backyard
Plant and tend a vegetable garden together–and then reap the delicious rewards at the family dinner table.
On hot days, run through the sprinkler or stage a water balloon toss.

Play tourist
Take a weekend walking tour to see the sights in your own town.
Check for free or reduced admission days at walking-friendly attractions such as local museums or zoos.

Options for outdoors or indoors
Hit the walking or bike trails at a nearby park.
Train together for a charity walk-a-thon.
Play a round of miniature golf.
Borrow a group fitness or kickboxing tape from the library to try together.
Contact your community recreation center for free or low-cost options such as swimming or basketball. Get out in the fresh air and do some good by volunteering to help clean up a park or your neighborhood.


More information:
Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time!

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Q: What are some fun activities for kids that would promote positive self-esteem?

A:  

One of the fun physical activities with "win-wins" written all over it is the "Walk/Talk/Bike and/or Hike." Self-esteem is bolstered when children of all ages have a parent's undivided attention without the TV blaring, the phone ringing or the usual rush of today's world. Taking a walk or riding a bike or going on a recreational hike are non-competitive activities. There is little built-in competition involved or there certainly doesn't have to be. The added plus of one of these fun, physical choices is the child and the parent get to catch up not only on physical activity but also with one another's lives. Make a date once or twice a week to take that before or after dinner walk even if it's for 10 minutes. It's a welcome change for both of you and the child gets your companionship and attention unconditionally without having to get all "A's" on his or her report card or play on the winning basketball team.

Another option that is fun for kids and a great boost to their sense of self is teaching a parent or other interested adult something they don't already know how to do or aren't very good at. Soccer comes to mind immediately. It only requires a ball and a little outdoor space and kids seem to have a bit of an advantage over most adults when it comes to the fancy footwork and "heady" activity.

Another option is to help the child select a new activity that they seem to enjoy and have the potential for learning and improving over time. Praise for actions and activities are important, but when the child can begin to see his or her own improvement over time, the evidence of successful forward motion acts like a fertilizer for growing self-esteem. How many times can the two of you lob the tennis ball back and forth before one of you can get to the ball? When practicing a tennis serve, how many times does the novice tennis player place the ball in the correct space on the opposing court? Children (and adults, too) can establish their own records that they wish to beat.


More information:

Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem
Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time!
Make Fitness a Family Affair

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