The bad news about obesity is all around us. We’re all aware that in this modern age, we are more likely to sit behind computers at work, or sit in front of the TV at night, and as a result, our levels of activity and therefore our health is plummeting. You may not be aware, however, of the horrendous effect that this is having on our children.
Daily recommended exercise
Is your child getting their daily recommended amount of exercise? Do you even know what that amount is? Here’s a breakdown, for all age groups:
– Adults should be active for at least 150 minutes a week. That’s around 30 minutes every day
– Children aged 5 to 16 need to be active for at least an hour every day
– A child under 5 years old needs three hours of activity a day. This includes toddlers and those who can stand by themselves
– Babies do not have a strict number of active minutes or hours, but as soon as they can crawl, they should be encouraged to be active through actions such as reaching, grasping, pulling, pushing and moving their heads and limbs.
More than just school
Your kids may spend most of the day at school or nursery, but these guidelines are set on top of the activity that they do in their learning environment. Schools should not be relied upon to provide children with their only source of activity; school stops for half term, school holidays or even the weekend, but that doesn’t mean the exercise should stop too.
The future generation
Your child may be well within these guidelines above but sadly, the statistics for our nation as a whole are saddening. According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, 79% of boys and 84% of girls fail to meet the minimum daily recommendation of exercise. This means that 1 in 3 children are leaving primary school either overweight or obese. Due to lack of exercise and poor eating habits, a shocking 9 out of 10 of our kids today could grow up with dangerous amounts of fat in their bodies, which can lead to life-threatening diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Setting a good example – now
Although children need more exercise than adults to help build strong bones and develop their muscles and organs, the fact is, we ALL need exercise in our lives. The best way of encouraging your child to be active is to be active yourself. Making it part of the whole family’s routine will not only bring health benefits to all of you but also provide great bonding time as well. If it’s not something that’s happening in your home at the moment, do not worry – it’s not too late. Get started now with our fun and creative ideas below:
1. Make time for a walk
Walking is one of life’s sweet pleasures. It’s free, it’s easy, and all you need are your legs to do it! Although the summer holidays are supposed to be a time for a break, most families find that in reality, their diaries are fuller. Before heading out in the car or on public transport to ferry the kids to a play date, why not take the agenda, and factor in some extra time to walk there. When the weather is sunny, or simply just dry, get out there and enjoy it.
Wherever the road takes you
Walking doesn’t always have to have a destination. If you find yourself with time to spare, take the kids out for a wander anyway. For you, it’s a great way to clear your mind of all the daily stresses, and for them, it can even be a bit of an adventure. Have you ever noticed how much more you discover when you’re on foot, compared to in a vehicle? Your eyes are up and aware of your surroundings – you never know what you mind find on your travels.
Swap the school runs for school walks!
The UK organisation Living Streets founded an initiative in 1994, encouraging children to walk to school. Why? Because their research found that in the previous generation, 70% of us walked to school and now, it’s less than half. This has a significant impact not only on school children and their health, but on the environment too; one in five cars out on the road in the morning rush hour is on a school run, so think of the cut in congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions there would be if more families walked instead. Living Streets offered the opportunity for kids to use a Travel Tracker and collect monthly badges for walking to school once a week. Not only were they rewarded in this way, but results found that by walking, kids arrived at school fit, refreshed and ready to learn, they achieved better in class and overall, their happiness, health and independence were improved.
Whether you’re involved in a nationwide initiative or simply decide to make the change on your own, walking to and from school is a great way to work exercise into your child’s life, whilst also having the peaceful time to plan or catch up on the day’s excitements.
2. Ask for help around the house
Sometimes it can feel like having the kids home for the summer only adds to the daily to-do list, but why not turn that idea on its head, and see the kids as extra pairs of hands to help you get the list crossed off. If you can’t think of a way of making chores fun (cleaning, for example, might be too tricky to put in an exciting light) why not build in a prize system to encourage them? Money and junk food are of course easy incentives for any child, but think of something that will benefit them, like a day trip, for example? Keep reading for some ideas…
No such thing as too many cooks
Encouraging your children to help out in the kitchen can bring a number of benefits. Cooking is an essential skill and will become their own responsibility in their adult years, so it’s never too early for them to start. Ok, this may not provide as much exercise as a game of football, but it certainly beats sitting around playing video games, and we adults know it’s more fun too, even if the kids might not agree at first! Bringing children into the cooking process will give them a sense of achievement, and also make healthy eating an ally, not an enemy. Once they have a few skills under their little chef’s belt, they can also contribute ideas to the food shopping, and work on a few creations of their own. You never know, you may have the next Jamie Oliver or Heston Blumenthal living right under your roof (warning, start with simple recipes – the snail porridge and liquid nitrogen can come later).
Dirty work in the garden
And speaking of snails, remember there may be chores in the garden, as well as inside the house. If you’re having a spring clean in the garden this summer, make sure to get your children involved in the whole process, from the initial trip to the garden centre all the way through to potting up the plants.
Just like cooking, gardening may unearth (no pun intended) a hobby for life. An average adult can burn up to 500 calories per hour of gardening, so it can be a workout for the kids too, without them even knowing it.
3. Get making!
There are two key elements to making an activity easier: make it enjoyable, and get something in return. For adults, that second part is easy. We have weight, size or fitness goals that drive us forward, but for children, that doesn’t always apply. When encouraging young ones to get off their bums and “do something”, some thought may be required to make it seem worth their while. It’s not just the body that needs stimulation when you’re young, but the mind too. Little minds have unlimited imagination and creativity, so use that to get them active on the outside too.
King of the castle
During childhood, boys like to build forts and girls like to play house. It may seem like a generalisation, but it’s more often than not the case. Bring these two factors together and what do you get? A treehouse, of course! It may seem like entertainment of eras gone by, but a bit of old fashioned fun never did anyone any harm. However, not everyone will have a tree or the tools and materials needed to make a treehouse, so think on your feet and work with what you’ve got. Cardboard boxes and old dust sheets can all be transformed into something magical. Has the weather let you down? Then bring the imagination inside, with a bedcover tent or pillow den instead. Not only will the building process need hours of concentration and brute force, but the finished structure will provide your child with endless distractions as well.
Nothing like a good project
If your child is more booky or techy than sporty, a project could be a good way to get them on the path of activity. For younger children, the simple act of cutting, sticking and creating provides more energy and movement than sitting in front of a screen does. If your child is older, researching their favourite author or artist may start at home, but it will open up a world of exploration and discovery further than their bedroom. If you are lacking inspiration, find out if there are exhibitions on, or fun days out that can extend their learning and get them out of the house.
4. Get some green in
No, we aren’t talking about vegetables (that’s a completely different battle you’ll have to face with your little ones). In our modern lives, we sometimes forget how important a connection with nature can be. A survey carried out earlier this year found that three-quarters of children in the UK spend less time outside than prison inmates. Just a few months earlier, a government report also found that more than one in nine children has not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year. But there is good news too – it’s never too late to turn these statistics around.
There’s nothing like the excitement of being outside to motivate a child’s physical health and mental well-being. A big open space can help them let loose and set their sense of adventure free. For most of us living in urban environments, the closest we get to green is our local park. Climb a tree, ride a bike, kick around a football; there are endless possibilities that a park can offer, not just for your child but also for their friends or for you as a family.
Get out in the world!
If you do live in a city, taking some time out to travel to somewhere more rural will do your child a world of good. Think about your child’s tastes and interests when picking a location, and take the opportunity to have them learn something new too. Spending a weekend or even just a day in the countryside is a great way to disconnect from the buzz of modern life, but don’t forget there are lakes, and forests to explore as well. How about grabbing your bucket and spade and heading for the seaside? Wherever your destination, you’ll find a whole range of new activities for your child to enjoy, and wonderful memories will be forged too.
5. Get a gadget
You have to face it; children are engaging more and more with the technology around them, as digital devices are now used increasingly in both their home and school environments. Instead of fearing that these are hindering their health and active lifestyles, use some of the exciting gadgets out there to encourage exercise instead.
Grab an app
Stuck for ideas at playtime? Change 4 Life has an app named The Fun Generator, where you can select from indoors or outdoors, and the number of children involved in the play, and it will generate multiple games to try out. There are explanations of how to play as well as detailed lists of everything you’ll need. If your child is smartphone savvy, hand over the app and let them be in charge. Although children’s daily step recommendations aren’t as straightforward as an adult’s, a pedometer could be a good way for an older child to track their daily activity. Some apps not only have a step counter but also translate their movements into minutes of activity. Have a look online for pedometers designed specifically for children to use. If your kids have smartphones of their own, you could do this simply by turning on the built-in pedometer in their device. Set challenges with them or just encourage them to do a little more than they did the day before.
Get your skates on
Skates, rollerblades, boards, bikes… if you need a present for your child, there are so many gadgets out there that will help get them moving. These things don’t need to cost the earth though. You could easily pick up equipment like skipping ropes, hula-hoops, or a basketball hoop for your garden, for very little money.
Or how about you do a sporting activity together? Find your local Active Nation venue and start your summer planning here!