Every parent knows how important it is to provide their children with the foundation they need to live a happy, healthy life. We spend lots of time worrying about what goes into their bodies: preparing the right meals, creating healthy eating habits, and planning wholesome snacks.
But it’s equally important to remember that a key part of a healthy lifestyle is physical activity. Helping your kids enjoy physical exercise is the other half to developing healthy lifestyle habits that will serve them well moving forward.
In this article, we’ll examine the foundations of a healthy physical activity program for your children. We’ll look at the benefits and core philosophies that will help guide your child’s exercise.
Come As You Are
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to point out that children come in a variety of beautiful shapes, sizes, and ability levels.
If your child has any physical limitations or isn’t interested in being active, it can be a challenge to know how to provide that encouragement.
It’s necessary to support your child where they are at in their abilities and with the primary focus of health and never on weight loss. In doing this, your child has the chance to develop positive and healthy associations with activity.
As a good rule of thumb, it’s always best to consult with your pediatrician before engaging in any organized activity.
On a similar subject, be aware that a child’s ability level will naturally change with age and as they grow. For example, balance will shift during growth spurts.
Before engaging in any new activity, be sure to assess whether your child is ready. But always be excited when your little one wants to try something new!
Benefits of Exercise for Children
It’s easy for adults to set fitness goals and stick with them. We decide we want to improve our blood pressure, increase our strength, or feel more confident, and we make a plan to reach that target. For children, the goals are quite different, but just as concrete.
Engaging in regular, strenuous activities as a child has a whole host of benefits that last well into adulthood.
Studies have shown that kids who exercise have much healthier cardiovascular systems (i.e., the heart, lungs, and veins).
Exercise also creates stronger bones and more improves blood sugar levels.
Plus, exercise releases positive chemicals in the brain that will enhance your child’s mood and ability to concentrate!
It also helps with stress management and the activity itself can help children keep their energy levels steady throughout the day.
From top to bottom, being active has a whole slew of health benefit for your child.
Types of Exercise
We won’t be getting into specific activities in this article, but let’s still think about the broad concept of what constitutes exercise.
Try to keep in mind what you’re child does that meets the criteria for exercise because children can often make the line between resting and playing so fuzzy that it’s not clear when they’re active and when they’re not.
If your little toddler gets very animated while playing with his toy cars, is that exercise?
The 30-Minute Rule
The truth is it could be, depending on his cardiovascular response to the playing. When we’re looking at exercise for kids, we want to think about activities that will raise the heart rate for about 30 minutes or more.
Most sources recommend that children get 30 minutes or more of play at least five days each week. You may find that your youngster has the energy to keep on playing for more often than that minimum – and that’s a good thing!
For many parents, the best way for their children to reach this goal is through organized sports. If you’re trying to judge a specific activity, think about whether your child is increasing their heart rate, and consider the length of time they’re playing.
Work on nurturing that enjoyment of exercise, and help your child find more opportunities to do the playing they enjoy.
However, keep in mind that even little ones need time to recover. While adults are good at knowing when their bodies have had enough, children sometimes miss the early warning signs.
Communicate with your child about how they feel after each play session, and don’t be afraid to curtail activity to prevent overexertion.
Follow the Fun
Exercise causes a host of physical responses that make it quite fun and enjoyable. However, one element many parents miss in the development of their child’s exercise habits is setting a positive example through their actions.
Studies have shown that children will enjoy the activity more if they see their parents regularly engaging in it as well.
Talk to your kids about the types of exercise you do and why it’s valuable (emphasis on health benefits), or better yet, try to find an activity the two of you can do together! You’ll get in some great bonding time while both of you stay healthy.
Activities They Love
Finally, when it comes to finding an exercise that works for your child, pay special attention to what your little one already enjoys. Does your child have a favorite sport to watch on television or a game they love to play with their friends?
Look for ways to incorporate these things into the exercise plan. The kids will learn to see their activity as a fun part of the day! Not as a difficult task, which is the ultimate goal!
There’s no exact road map to leading a healthy life, and that’s especially true when it comes to exercise. Be sure to focus on this part of your child’s development, though. Good exercise habits are developed early.
And when they take root, they will ensure your child is in for a healthy, happy life.